A Minimum Wage for New York City

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

New York State’s minimum wage rose to $8.00 an hour on January 1.  At $8.00 an hour, that’s about $16,000 yearly wage for someone working a 40 hour week.  How can a family in New York City survive on that wage?

There is a caricature of low-wage workers – that most of them are teenagers working part time at the local Dairy Queen.  But most low-wage workers are adults working full time.  Their average age is 35.  These are people washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, cleaning hotel rooms, washing cars.
In New York City, the overwhelming majority of low-wage workers are blacks, Latinos, and immigrants.  These workers are increasing in number because of the devastating effects of the recent recession, when many people lost good-paying jobs and were forced to settle for low-wage employment.

The latest attempt by Congress to raise the federal minimum wage - from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016 - is stuck in political gridlock.  If it is adopted, it would help nearly 28 million low-wage workers earn a little more on the job.

Meanwhile, number of states have taken action and raised their minimum wage above the federal minimum.  In fact, Connecticut recently passed legislation to raise its minimum to $10.10 by 2017.  Since January 2013, seven states – including California, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Rhode Island - and Washington, D.C., have raised their minimum wage.

Many states that raised their minimum above the federal level also index it to inflation.  Not New York.  Without this, the minimum wage loses some of its value every year.  This is why there are constant attempts to raise it.

When Bill de Blasio ran for mayor, his campaign highlighted the extent of economic inequality in the city.  Now in office, he has set himself the task of raising the wages and benefits of low-wage workers.

The mayor wants to raise the minimum wage in New York City.  To accomplish this, however, he has to get the approval of the state Legislature.  Governor Cuomo almost immediately rejected the mayor’s proposal, providing only illogical reasoning for his position. 

New York would hardly be the first city to set its own minimum wage.  San Francisco’s minimum is now $10.74 and is tied to the consumer price index.  Seattle plans to pay its city workers a minimum of $15 an hour, with the possibility of extending that wage to all workers.

The city should be granted the authority to set its own minimum wage.  The cost of living here is a great deal higher than in the rest of the state.  Cost of living is a major factor in individual states increasing their minimum.  It should equally apply to the vast differences in the cost of living between the city and upstate. 

Also, there is a direct link between low-wage jobs and homelessness in this city with its shrinking amount of affordable housing.  There are homeless New Yorkers who leave shelters every day and go to work.  But they can’t make enough money to afford an apartment.  There is a social cost which the business sector – with its ability to stymie living wages - has been shifting onto the backs of taxpayers.

Increasing the minimum wage will give low-income families more disposable income, almost all of which they will spend in the local economy.  This increase in consumer spending will, in turn, spur job growth. 

Over and above the economic argument for raising the minimum wage, there is an ethical argument: No one who works full time should have to live in poverty.

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