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Why We Need It

New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito discusses how living wage and prevailing wage can help both the bottom lines of businesses and workers and their families.

There are about 317,000 low-wage workers in New York City, and about one in five of these workers are paid less than the legally required minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project’s recent report which surveyed 1,432 low-wage workers in New York City, titled “Working Without Laws: A Survey of Employment and Labor Law Violations in New York City.”

More than half of these workers are underpaid by more than $1 per hour. Meanwhile, approximately 25 percent of low-wage workers in New York are denied overtime pay, and a majority of those who said they were denied this legally required time-and-a-half pay had worked an average of 13 hours per week in overtime. Additionally, 42 percent of the workers who complained of such conditions or attempted to form a union were retaliated against. Workers reported that their hours and/or pay was cut, people were fired or suspended, and bosses threatened to call immigration authorities. With dwindling rights and poverty wages, surviving in New York is a day-to-day struggle.

If the political will exists, public resources and tools can be used to raise the standard of the city’s landscape, ensuring that public resources benefit businesses that provide good, family-supporting jobs. In turn, good wages paves the way for a good economy.

San Diego, California has had a city-wide living wage ordinance for five years, and many agree that this law has strengthened the city’s economy. According to a recent story in the San Diego Union Tribune, studies show that when low-income workers are given a raise, they’re likely to spend that money instead of investing or saving it.

A living wage ordinance is good for workers, and it’s good for the economy too.