Dec. 7, 2022
As minimum wage workers in New York City struggle with inflated prices, the New York City Council is urging the New York State Legislature to act.
At a meeting held on Wednesday, the Council passed a resolution calling for the State Legislature to pass the Raise the Wage Act in its upcoming legislative session, which begins on Jan. 4, 2022. Sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner, the legislation would increase the minimum wage in New York City to $21.25 by 2026, after which the wage would be raised annually by a percentage based on rates of inflation and labor productivity.
“Each year that inflation increases, and wages remain stagnant, workers in minimum wage sectors such as food service, retail, and customer service struggle with the rising costs of necessities,” said Councilwoman Carmen de la Rosa, who chairs the Committee on Civil Service and Labor.
Tal Friedman, the spokesperson for the Raise Up NY coalition, expressed appreciation for the City Council, as well as frustration with the lack of progress that New York has made.
“Our aim is to solve this problem once and for all by…ensuring that New York joins the eighteen other states that automatically adjust the minimum wage each year to keep up with rising costs.”
When New York raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour at the end of 2018, the state was viewed as a leader in the fight to increase wages for hourly workers. But it neglected to tie that new hourly wage to rising costs of living, hindering purchasing power as rates of inflation have risen. As of October 2022, the rate of inflation in the New York area was 6%.
“Effectively, if you take account of the increase in inflation since the minimum reached $15 an hour, the purchasing power of that is effectively $13 an hour in today’s dollars,” said James A. Parrott, director for fiscal and economic policy at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School. “It may appear as $15, but it doesn’t buy what $15 did four years ago.”
Altius Keith, an employee at retail giant Zara in lower Manhattan, says that while he would like to save up for a place of his own one day, rates of inflation and minimum-wage paychecks have rendered it impossible. “One thing I know about inflation and working in retail is that it’s not a good combination,” he said.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, if New York were to pass the legislation, it would be the first state in the country to index its minimum wage to both rates of inflation as well as productivity rates, which are calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It would also protect the purchasing power of female, black, and Latinx workers, who according to the Institute are more likely to hold low-wage jobs.
Patrick Bailey, director of communications for the Business Council of New York State, stated that the Council does not currently support increasing the minimum wage.
“Small businesses, in particular, are already saddled with high unemployment taxes and other state-imposed mandates that, when faced with higher wage mandates on top of it all, force them to make tough decisions that often time result in staff reductions,” he said.
Senator Ramos’ office pushed back on Bailey’s assertion that raising the minimum wage would hurt small businesses.
“Every time we raise the wage for low-wage workers, we hear that we will lose jobs and small businesses, and it just is not backed up by the data. Raising the wage is popular across party lines and across the state, so we are ready to make the case next session.”
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