State lawmakers should boost minimum wage

June 22, 2000. A letter to the editor by Trudi Renwick and Tom Michl. Published in the Albany Times Union.

On Monday the Times Union reported the effort to increase the state minimum wage to $6.75 per hour “apparently died in the Senate.” The Senate has returned to Albany this week and should make sure this opportunity to give low-income working New Yorkers a much-needed raise doesn’t really die. In fact, the purchasing power (in current dollars) of the minimum wage has fallen from approximately $8 an hour in 1968 to the current $5.15.

Increasing the minimum wage would benefit more than a million New York workers. And these aren’t just teenagers. Three-fourths of the beneficiaries would be adults, and many of those are their families’ main breadwinners.

By increasing its minimum wage above the federal $5.15, New York would join nine other states that already have done so, including New York’s neighbors: Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Higher-productivity states can afford higher statutory floors. And, workers in states with a higher cost of living need higher minimum wages.

Opponents complain that increasing the minimum wage would slow job growth and put New York at a competitive disadvantage. But the best evidence shows that past minimum-wage increases, at both the federal and state levels, caused very little, if any, employment loss. In fact, since January 2000, when Massachusetts increased its minimum wage from $5.25 to $6, its share of the region’s jobs has actually gone up.

Our Bay State neighbors are obviously onto something — and have already enacted a further increase to $6.75 to take effect on Jan. 1, 2001. New York should follow suit.

Trudi Renwick
Fiscal Policy Institute, Latham

Thomas R. Michl,
Professor of Economics, Colgate University.

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