Fixing the economic ladder

BY SHELDON SILVER  |  In Lower Manhattan, where the cost of living is very high, it is essential that we provide our residents with all the tools they need to succeed and thrive. I am proud of the great strides we have made in rebuilding and improving our Downtown community. Now, we must fix the economic ladder that has enabled generations of New Yorkers, including the many immigrants who make Lower Manhattan their home, to climb into the middle class. Our community will reach its greatest potential when all of our neighbors have the opportunity not only to work but also to provide for their families and save for their future.

As we continue to look for ways to improve the economy for all New Yorkers and ensure that our path back to prosperity is one that includes all people – not just the wealthy – I have made raising our state’s minimum wage my top legislative priority this year. This week, the Assembly introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour and index it to inflation.

We must begin to rekindle the spirit of shared prosperity and restore the dignity of work by raising the minimum wage. At $7.25 per hour, our current minimum wage ranks among the nation’s lowest. Working men and women in the District of Columbia and 18 states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, receive a higher minimum wage than do New Yorkers. Ten states index their minimum wages to inflation in order to ensure that their real values do not erode as the cost of living rises. Nowhere is that more important than here in Lower Manhattan, where the cost of living continues to go up. It is absurd to expect a working person or family to afford rent, groceries, clothing, phone, transportation, and day care – and be able to save for the future – on $290 per week for a 40-hour week.

Unfortunately for working New Yorkers, our minimum wage has increased by only ten cents in the last five years. Raising the minimum wage will put much-needed cash in the pockets of more than 1.2 million New Yorkers. It will provide direct relief to those working families who most need it. Equally important, raising the minimum wage will provide an immediate boost to our Lower Manhattan economy. Research shows that minimum-wage earners spend those extra dollars immediately in local businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants, spurring economic recovery and creating local jobs.

Economic theory aside, raising the minimum wage is absolutely a matter of dignity. No one who works hard and follows the rules should be poor and bereft of hope. Elevating the value of hard work is essential to the survival of the American Dream and a critical rung on the ladder to financial security.

Sheldon Silver is Speaker of the New York State Assembly and represents Lower Manhattan.