Gov. Cuomo’s Leadership Needed to Deliver Strongest Possible Minimum Wage Increase to New Yorkers

Statement from Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project

National Employment Law Project

For Immediate Release: May 15, 2012

Contact: Tim Bradley, tim@berlinrosen.com, 314-440-9936

Governor Cuomo’s Leadership Needed to Deliver Strongest Possible Minimum Wage Increase to New Yorkers

78% of New Yorkers support immediate increase in minimum wage to $8.50

Statement from Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project

Now that the Assembly has voted to raise the state’s minimum wage and yet another poll has reaffirmed the public’s overwhelming support for it, Governor Cuomo needs to stand with millions of hard-working New Yorkers and ensure passage of a strong minimum wage.

The Governor got a lot of notice for reducing the taxes of millionaires, and raising the wages of low-wage workers now is a chance to balance the scales. But while he has stated he supports this effort “in principle,” the Governor has yet to commit to Speaker Silver’s bill raising the minimum wage to $8.50 and indexing it to inflation, and he has yet to urge the Senate to pass it.  New York’s low-paid workers cannot afford Governor Cuomo’s reticence on this issue.

Just yesterday, a Sienna College poll showed that 78 percent of New Yorkers support an immediate increase in the state minimum wage to $8.50, including 58 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Independents. Any effort to weaken the Assembly’s bill would betray the public’s support and what the economy urgently needs.

Spikes in the cost of living have eaten away at the real value of the minimum wage for decades – it would be over $10.50 today if it had maintained its value since 1970. The proposed increase to $8.50 in 2013 would simply catch New York’s rate up with neighboring Vermont and Connecticut and still leave the minimum wage fully $2.00 below its historic value. It makes little sense to “phase” this measure in over several years.

New York should also adopt annual indexing of the minimum wage to inflation, which ten states already practice. Since 1980 there have been two nine-year stretches during which New York’s minimum wage has remained frozen. Indexing would not only ensure that the paychecks of low-paid workers maintain their value over time, but also give businesses more certainty and control over their payrolls. They would see predictable small increases in the minimum wage each year, rather than needing periodic large increases to make up for years of neglect.

No fewer than eighteen states have already raised their minimum wage higher than the current level in New York, including the ten states that index their minimum wages each year to keep up with the rising cost of living. A recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that the annual adjustments to the minimum wage that eight of those states made in January 2011 delivered a valuable boost to job growth and GDP.

Additionally, the ten states that today index their minimum wages have mostly done so through voter-approved ballot initiative.  Governor Cuomo’s leadership would make him one of the only governors to enact this essential practice for working families, and make New York the largest state (ahead of Florida) to use this model approach. 

It is time for New York to stop neglecting its lowest-paid workers. Governor Cuomo can make history and significantly help the economy by standing up for a strong minimum wage that keeps pace with the cost of living and rewards the hard work that millions of low-wage New Yorkers do every day.

The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org.

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