BY MARINA VILLENUEVE
The minimum wage has risen to $15 per hour for all workers in New York City — making it among the first places in the country to reach the goal sought by many labor activists.
Workers elsewhere in the state will make less: $13 in the city’s near suburbs and $11.80 upstate. The changes officially took effect today, Tuesday.
In 2013, New York raised the minimum wage to $9 from $7.25 for non-tipped workers. A 2016 law called for the state to eventually raise its minimum wage to $15 but phased it in at different rates for New York City, the suburbs and upstate. The law also gave small New York City employers with 10 or fewer employees an extra year to make it to $15.
This year, Democrats who won newfound majorities in state legislatures and grabbed governors’ seats in 2018 successfully pushed to raise the minimum wage in several states.
But New York City is moving faster than many.
Washington, D.C.’s minimum wage will jump to $14 in July. California’s will jump to $15 in 2022, while Massachusetts will reach $15 by 2023, and New Jersey by 2024. The minimum wage in Seattle, meanwhile, will soon hit $16.39.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented number of states, cities, and counties raise the minimum wage,” said Yannet Lathrop, researcher and policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project. “Local communities all around the country strongly support raising the minimum wage, because people see their friends, neighbors, or themselves working hard but not getting ahead.”
Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has praised the rate, which has gone up at a time when unemployment is historically low at 4% in New York. His administration recently released a report that cited such unemployment figures and rising average wages and found “negligible, if any impacts” on labor demands throughout the state.
“New York is leading the fight for economic justice, proudly setting a national example by raising the minimum wage to $15,” Cuomo said.
Critics have said businesses might be forced to cut hours and jobs because of the hike. The New York City Hospitality Alliance says its recent survey shows over three-quarters of service and limited service restaurants said they reduced employee hours while over a third eliminated jobs. But the Cuomo administration report expects the 2020 minimum wage increases will be absorbed by projected moderate growth in employment and wages.
New York’s minimum wage, which has been steadily increasing in much of the state in recent years, has also been blamed for contributing to a budgetary shortfall to the tune of $6 billion. The state is spending $4 billion more on Medicaid than it budgeted, and the Cuomo administration says that’s largely because it’s costing more to pay health care aides and other workers as the minimum wage has risen.
Cuomo’s administration will also be studying when the minimum wage should reach $15 in Hudson Valley and upstate communities, which are contending with a tight labor market and struggling economies as the state’s population declines.
E.J. McMahon, of the Empire Center, called for an independent analysis of how New York’s minimum wage hike has impacted employment and prices. He pointed to labor figures showing a decline in hours worked in certain parts of upstate New York.
“You hear a lot of negative anecdotes,” he said. “The data don’t show anything conclusive.”