One of the things I dislike about the debate over a higher minimum wage is when politicians say they know what it’s like to have a minimum-wage job.
I had a minimum-wage job in high school. It was fun. I scooped ice cream part time and went home every week with enough money to buy fun stuff and do fun things.
But I don’t know what it’s like to live on a minimum-wage job. Why? Working wasn’t a necessity then. I wasn’t supporting anyone, and food, rent and health insurance were covered by my parents.
I suspect many politicians had the same experience. Their familiarity with the minimum wage was also a youthful side job that looked good on a college application.
Raising the minimum wage is great. But our state’s new $8-an-hour rate — goes up to $9 Dec. 31, 2015 — isn’t enough to live on in New York City. By the way, the $10.10 minimum wage President Barack Obama proposed for all workers last month falls short, too. Fifty dollars an hour probably isn’t enough to live on if you want an apartment bigger than a closet, a safe neighborhood and decent schools.
In fact, some people said it was a good idea that schools were kept open during last week’s storm because many parents couldn’t afford to miss work or pay for child care, or to feed their eligible-for-free-school-lunch children. I suspect many of those parents earn a minimum wage.
Al Roker’s Twitter war with Mayor Bill de Blasio last week notwithstanding, we live in a city where taking a day off from work to keep a child home in dangerous weather is onerous for many people.
Terms like “living wage” are thrown around, with little regard for their meaning. Isn’t a living wage the whole point of a minimum wage? To earn enough to live on? If the cost of living skyrockets, but the minimum wage stays the same, then it isn’t doing its job. At the very least, two adults earning the minimum wage should be able to support a family. In NYC, those adults would gross about $33,000. That’s not enough for decent housing in NYC.
Increasing the minimum wage to $9 in New York State over three years is a joke. So, politicians, stop patting yourselves on the back over the $9, and seriously look at how much it actually costs to live here.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin tweets as @Jewyorican and @ElBloombito.