Over one-third of New York City employees are paid less than $14 an hour; workers of color are twice as likely to be low-wage

June 17, 2014. The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) released a new data brief today showing the sector of employment and race/ethnicity for New York City workers paid less than $14 an hour. On an annual basis, $14 an hour would put a family $1,900 below the $31,039 poverty threshold for a New York City family.

Altogether, 1.2 million New York City workers are paid less than $14 an hour, 36 percent of all public and private wage and salary workers. This includes part-time as well as full-time workers.

The FPI analysis showed that the largest employers of low-wage workers are the Leisure & Hospitality and Retail Trade sectors. Sectors with the greatest reliance on low-wage workers relative to their total employment are, in order, Home Health Care, Leisure & Hospitality, Retail Trade, and Social Services.

According to James Parrott, FPI’s Deputy Director and Chief Economist: “Nearly four out of five low-wage New York City workers are persons of color, and workers of color are twice as likely as a white, non-Hispanic worker to be low-wage—48% of black workers and 55% of Latino workers are paid less than $14 an hour, while 23% of white workers are paid less than $14 an hour.”

The report noted the difference that union representation makes to the works employed in otherwise low-wage sectors like Retail Trade and Leisure and Hospitality. Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union stated: “The disturbing numbers in FPI’s report show what happens when workers are not able to act collectively to improve their lives. We need policies in place that increase unionization and give voice to these hardworking people in New York City. When workers have the support of a union they are able to live better lives and survive economically in this city.”

Parrott observed that in addition to unionization, low-wage New Yorkers would benefit if New York City is permitted to establish a minimum wage higher than the statewide minimum. Legislation pending in Albany would grant New York City the authority to set its own minimum wage.