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New York News

Debate Continues On $15/hr Minimum Wage

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The call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage has been sweeping New York and the nation, but not everyone is on board.

The drive to boost the minimum wage has been spiked by Fight for $15, an organizing campaign lobbying for a $15-an-hour wage floor in the fast-food industry.

Fiscal Policy Institute Deputy Director and Chief Economist James Parrott recently testified before the New York State Wage Board's hearing on increasing the minimum wage in the fast-food industry.  In testimony stating "$15 an hour is a step in the right direction," he cited the average wage at fast-food establishments across the state, which is $9 an hour, 25 cents above the $8.75 minimum rate.  "You know it would take a fast-food worker working a typical 28-hour fast-food work week, it would take an hourly wage of upwards of $20 an hour to support, even if the person was living on their own, a single adult with no family to support, would need at least $20 an hour."

In May, Governor Andrew Cuomo requested the Wage Board consider hiking pay for fast-food workers.  Thursday he attended a rally in New York City. "And then you have the minimum wage, which is supposed to be a living wage. When FDR passed the law, that's what he said."

At the gathering, Cuomo told reporters he was uncomfortable with the phrase “income inequality.”  "It suggest you don't like the rich people. And that's not true. We aspire to wealth. I hope my kids are millionaires. Acquisition of wealth is a good thing. It's the American Dream. That's why people came here."

The board’s recommendations are expected any day now, and Cuomo could enact them without approval from the state legislature.  The Business Council of New York State argues increases in the state minimum wage should be addressed though the legislature, not unilaterally by the Commissioner of Labor as the statute currently allows.

In a prepared statement, the Council says it "...believes that the state’s long-term future requires improvements in the state’s overall economic competitiveness.  Imposing significant new costs on employers, including new or increased wage mandates, is contrary to achieving that objective."

But economist Parrot says many low-wage workers make so little they qualify for public assistance. "This effectively involves shifting business costs form the fast food company to the public and asking taxpayers to pick up that."

Parrot believes a $15 fast-food wage floor would boost consumer spending and reduce poverty, and would have positive overall economic consequences.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo is set to conduct a series of public hearings across the state on the issue.

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report, "Income and Poverty in US: 2013," shows that of the 26.4 million U.S. residents between 18 to 64 years old in poverty, 15.8 million or 59.7 percent did not work a full week that year.  Whether due to the lack of available jobs, an individuals’ lack of marketable skills, or other factors, this data illustrates that minimum wage increases by themselves will do nothing to help a significant share of the nation’s, or the state’s, poor.   In contrast, among adults who had year-round full-time employment in 2013, just 2.7 percent were in poverty.

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