New York Daily News
Over one million New Yorkers who barely survive now on minimum wage, could soon catch a breather.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Labor Committee Chairman Keith Wright, both Democrats, introduced legislation Monday to raise the minimum wage in New York State to $8.50 next in January. The measure also provides for automatic raises in the following years to adjust for inflation.
If approved, only Oregon and Washington would pay a higher minimum wage.
“Now we are addressing the inequities at the lower end of the pay scale,” Silver said. “It is absurd to expect anyone to afford the cost of living today and be able to invest in their future on a pay rate of $7.25 an hour.”
The Working Families Party and a coalition of labor unions, and community organizations are solidly behind the legislation.
“This is an important step, it has been a while since the minimum wage has gone up in New York, and people are struggling to survive,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an active member of the coalition. A step that, without a doubt, was made possible in good measure by the awareness of the terrible economic inequality brought about by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“This is not the end by any means, we will keep fighting to forge a path out of poverty for low-wage workers,” said Appelbaum who sees the bill as a logical extension of the Living Wage movement in the city.
“We were able to do two things,” he said. “We highlighted how unjust it is that people get paid so little, and how difficult it is for people to survive in the city and the state. We opened the debate about the need of low-wage workers to get paid more.”
But poverty is not only a local problem. In fact, nearly half of all Americans have fallen into poverty or joined the ranks of the working poor, according to the U.S. Census.
“This is not the American Dream,” said Wright. “New Yorker’s who work full time, shouldn’t be poor. It’s as simple as that.”
But persuading Republicans to get on board may not be so simple. Arguing that it would hurt job growth, they have traditionally opposed raising the minimum wage even though it has increased only 10 cents in the last six years.
But Appelbaum sees the wage hike as having a positive impact on the economy.
“Given the state of the economy New Yorkers need a wage-led recovery from the recession,” Appelbaum said. “When you have little and have great need you are going to spend every penny and that money is going back into the economy.”
In other words, when workers earn more, they spend more which makes the economy stronger and benefits everyone.
The bill has a powerful backer in Mayor Bloomberg, and the fact that 69% of New Yorkers in a NY 1 poll support the measure, makes it hard for GOP legislators to dismiss it.
Gov. Cuomo has not yet taken a position but has said he wants to meet with business groups and talk with his economic advisers before making a decision.
“We want to understand the impact of a minimum wage increase on the economy,” the Daily News quoted him yesterday.
“I am sure that if he listens to some of the struggling people,” Appelbaums said, “he will see that hiking the minimum wage is the best thing for the economy and for New York.”