Cuomo's Push for Minimum Wage Hike is a Good Start, But it's Not Quite Enough, Critics Say
Low-wage workers and advocates took New York City by storm at the close of last year with mass demonstrations across the city for better wages and work-place conditions.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Thus, one might assume that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's call for a $1.50 minimum wage increase during his annual State of the State address would signal a great victory for those advocating for higher worker wages.
But it turns out that while advocates for wage increases are happy to see the governor put his stamp of approval on a potential wage-hike, many also contend that a $8.75/hour minimum wage still isn't enough for workers and their families to survive.
"Is $8.75 sufficient? Of course not , but it's a huge step in the right direction." James Parrott, chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, tells the Voice. "I think people see that this is the year that this will happened in New York State. This is not going to be the end of it. This is not going to be sufficient."
Last January, the FPI released a report that called for incremental increases in minimum wage levels that would pay workers a minimum of $10/hour by 2014. New York's minimum wage hasn't increased since 2009, and has only gone up, in accordance with the federal minimum wage, by 10 cents in the last six years.
A $10/hour figure would bring the minimum wage to 108 percent of the federal poverty line for three-person families -- a percentage that hasn't been achieved since the 1960s and 1970s. New York's current minimum wage is only 82 percent of the federal poverty line for three-person families, according to the report.
"It is imperative that any discussion about increasing New York's minimum wage be realistic about just how much money it takes to live in this State, and reflect the needs of the families who work so hard to make ends meet," UnitedNY, a labor coalition, said in a statement.
A true living wage in New York City comes out to about $12.75/hour for one adult and $32.30/hour for a single adult with two children," according to Poverty in America's Living Wage Calculator.
Despite the disparity between the minimum wage and the actual living wage needed to stay afloat in New York, there are still those who are opposed to any type of minimum wage increase -- including a number of employers within the business industry.
"It is difficult for an employer, if they only consider their own situation in the short term.
Public officials should help in communicating to employers that there's a longer term effect here," Parrott says. "When you raise the minimum wage...without putting any one company [or] any one business at a disadvantage, decades of history show that employers are able to adjust over time to the higher wage levels. They become more efficient in the process."
If the state legislator does pass the $8.75 minimum wage increase, that would boost New York up from the 19th to 3rd on the list of states with with the highest minimum wages, according to the FPI report.
The report proposes that New York begin adjusting its minimum wage to reflect changes in the Consumer Pricing Index -- as a number of states, including Washington and Oregon already do.
"The Governor's commitment to raising the minimum wage is a step in the right direction toward improving conditions for workers, but the proposed increase from $7.25 to $8.75 an hour without indexing it to inflation simply doesn't go far enough," UnitedNY said.
Whether truly sufficient or not, Cuomo at least appears committed to getting some kind of wage increase passed.
"The current minimum wage is unlivable. It's only $14,616," Cuomo said in his address. "My friends, it does not add up. Nineteen other states have raised the minimum wage; we propose raising the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour. It's the right thing to do. It's the fair thing to do. It is long overdue. We should have done it last year. Let's do it this year."