On Wednesday, New York State’s wage board recommended an increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour. The new wage would go into effect in New York City on Dec. 31, 2018, and for the rest of the state on July 1, 2021. The wage board was appointed by Gov. Cuomo to look specifically at wages in the fast-food industry, and held public hearings across the state in the month of June. I testified at the hearing in New York City, which featured dozens of fast-food workers sharing their stories of struggling to survive on low-wage, fast-food jobs. The Community Service Society supports the proposed increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast-food workers.
The more than 160,000 fast-food workers in New York are among the lowest paid workers in the state. Despite annual profits in the billions of dollars, the fast-food industry continues to shortchange its low-wage workforce with wages that are not enough for one to be economically self-sufficient. As a result, the cost for basic necessities such as food and healthcare are shifted to taxpayers, as fast-food workers are forced to rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance just to get by. The new minimum wage will correctly shift these costs back to the companies that are making money hand over fist on the backs of their low-wage workforce.
The increase in the minimum wage for fast-food workers is a significant victory, but more needs to be done to ensure that all workers receive a fair wage for a hard day’s work. There are dozens of occupations in the state, representing hundreds of thousands of workers, from retail workers to home health aides, where the median hourly wage is a far cry from $15 an hour. Without further action, the minimum wage for these workers is scheduled to increase to only $9 an hour in 2016 with no additional increases on the horizon.
We know these workers are struggling as well. According to data from the Unheard Third, our annual survey of low-income New Yorkers, workers earning less than $10 an hour are far more likely to experience multiple, significant hardships such as skipping meals and falling behind in the rent compared to workers who earn at least $15 an hour. Workers with the lowest hourly wages are also more likely to rely on public benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.
Our survey also finds that New York City residents overwhelmingly support a $15 an hour minimum wage for all workers in the state. Three-quarters of survey respondents are in favor, with nearly two-thirds strongly in favor. Support for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage is strong among all income levels, and though Democrats are more supportive than Republicans, a majority of Republicans support such an increase as well. In San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles the minimum wage for all workers is scheduled to gradually rise to $15 an hour over the next several years. Why shouldn’t New York be next?
An increase in the minimum wage for fast-food workers is a welcome first step in the ongoing effort to ensure low-wage workers are paid a fair wage. For too long, fast-food behemoths have raked in billions of dollars in profits while taxpayers foot the bill when an employee’s meager earnings aren’t enough to put food on the table in their own home. We are encouraged that fast-food workers in New York will receive the wages they deserve, and continue to support a higher minimum wage for all workers in New York State.
The Unheard Third survey was conducted for CSS by Lake Research using random digit dialing (including cell phones and land lines) from July 25th to August 21st, 2014, and reached a total of 1,615 New York City residents, age 18 or older.