Low-wage New York workers deserve a raise

November 29, 2004. A letter to the editor by FPI’s senior economist, Trudi Renwick, Albany Times Union.

Your Nov. 12 editorial about the rise of poverty among working families in New York correctly pointed out that one solution to this problem would be an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

In July, both the Senate and Assembly passed a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage.

The bill, which would have established a state minimum wage of $6 per hour on Jan. 1, $6.75 per hour on Jan. 1, 2006, and $7.15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2007, was vetoed by Gov. Pataki last summer. The Assembly acted quickly to override the veto this summer. The Senate has the opportunity to do the same.

The editorial urging an increase in the minimum wage was a response to the Time Union’s Nov. 11 story (“Workers struggle to make ends meet”) describing a new report documenting the plight of New York’s working poor. This report, “Between Hope and Hard Times: Working Poor Families in New York” estimated that 70,000 people live in poverty in and around New York’s capital.

Based on available census and tax data, we estimate that one in six Capital Region workers would benefit from the increase in the state minimum wage now before the Senate. Of the 1.2 million New York workers who would benefit from this increase in the state’s minimum wage (about 700,000 directly and 500,000 indirectly), almost 60,000 live in Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties.

Statewide, over 80 percent of those who would benefit from an increased minimum wage are adults. More than half of these workers are employed full time. Potential beneficiaries are responsible for more than half their families’ total earnings and 38 percent of the families depend entirely on the earnings of these low-wage workers to survive.

New York should join the 14 other states that have increased their minimum wages, including three of our neighboring states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont — and two states, Nevada and Florida, where voters on Nov. 2 passed referenda to increase their state minimum wages.

New York workers also deserve a raise.

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