Raising the minimum wage is not the solution to income inequality nor is it a crushing killer of jobs and small businesses. But in a time of such vast disparity in wealth, it is a tool that can lift the lives of the working poor.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in September ordered an increase in the minimum wage to $15 for fast-food workers at chains with more than 30 outlets in the state. Last week, he went further with another executive order that covers state employees. Mirroring the fast-food directive, the increased wage will be phased in over three years for the 1,000 state workers in the city who make less than that rate per hour. For 9,000 state employees, the rate increases more slowly, over 5 1/2 years, reaching $15 by July 2021. These are state employees performing mostly clerical and maintenance jobs.
As a result, New York will have the nation’s highest minimum wage for public employees. And along with Seattle and Los Angeles, one of the highest for fast-food workers. They are often adults, mostly women who are supporting children. Despite working one or two jobs, most still have to apply for benefits, such as food stamps, to get by.
There is more to be done. The minimum wage for everyone else in New York is $8.75, going up 25 cents to $9 on New Year’s Eve. For the new year, the minimum wage should be increased across the board, but it should be done by the State Legislature, not as a result of unilateral action by the governor.
A $15 minimum by 2021 would be pretty close, albeit a little higher, to what the wage set in the 1970s would be now had it been indexed to inflation.
The GOP-controlled State Senate did not act on such proposals in the last session. If Cuomo’s latest move is a head fake to get them to act next year, it will be a winning strategy in the end. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan won’t commit although he seems open to upping the wage if it’s packaged with tax breaks for small businesses.
The are many ways this nation can address deepening income disparity. This is but a small step.