Raise minimum wage above $8.50

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As we start a new year and take a hard look at the city’s economic situation, a glaring need presents itself: In order to help rebuild our middle class, we need to help the working poor climb out of poverty by raising the minimum wage.

The minimum wage in the city is the federal rate of $7.25 an hour, or a full-time salary of about $15,000 a year. The minimum wage is not earned only by teenagers working part-time. In fact, many people earning this low wage are breadwinners supporting kids.

Who can possibly support a family in the country’s most expensive city on that amount? Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s New York City Center for Economic Opportunity sets the city’s poverty threshold for a single parent with one child at $21,000 and with two children at $25,000.

If we are serious about narrowing the wealth gap, we need to have the courage to pay all people a livable minimum wage. Because of New York’s high cost of living, the effective minimum wage here is less than $4, the lowest in the country.

New York City should adopt a minimum wage of $11.50 an hour, phased in over five years and then pegged to the Consumer Price Index. This will help single-parent families with either one or two children stay above water and bolster the city’s economy because almost every one of those dollars will be spent locally. We realize many nonprofits, which provide important social services under city contracts, will be affected by this change. These contracts would be reviewed and adjusted as appropriate.

More than 20 percent of workers who live in Queens now earn less than $11.50 an hour.

I support and applaud our leaders in Albany who are working to raise our state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, but we need to recognize that the cost of living varies drastically within our state. That rate buys a lot more in Buffalo and Rochester than it does in Queens or Brooklyn.

New York should be a city where working men and women can afford to make ends meet and support their families with dignity. The city should adopt policies like paid sick leave, expansion of temporary disability insurance and paid family leave insurance, none of which it currently has.

But we need to raise the minimum wage now.

Opponents will argue that paying a decent minimum wage will cause unemployment to rise and businesses to leave the city, but sound economic research says otherwise. New York is a city of opportunities, and the working poor need to be uplifted. That is a rising tide that will surely lift all boats.

John Liu

City Comptroller


Posted 12:45 am, January 25, 2013
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