Time To Raise the Minimum Wage

March 2013

By: Bruce W. Both, President

The recent worker unrest around the country and the efforts of Target, Walmart and many other retail workers to organize underscore the desperate plight of so many low-wage earners who are trying to make ends meet. 

The greed of Wall Street is beating back the needs of Main Street.

It is a fact is that the gap between the richest and poorest among us continues to grow. Yet across the country, the far right and big business have waged a relentless battle against working people, eroding wages, busting unions and ending workplace protections. 

This past November the Michigan state Legislature voted to strip unions of organizing rights, thus further weakening the union movement and the workers who are the backbone of our economy.

Despite the attack by corporate America on working families, we here in New York State have a chance to make a loud statement about the value of hard work. Earlier this year, the New York State Assembly introduced legislation to raise New York’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour and index it to inflation.  Governor Andrew Cuomo also announced his own version of minimum wage legislation. While both bills are somewhat different, both bills achieve the goal of raising the minimum wage.

Research has shown that raising the minimum wage spurs economic growth. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the very small increases in the minimum wage that took effect in eight states this year, combined with their indexing laws, will generate an additional $366 million in Gross Domestic Product and create the equivalent of more than 3,000 full-time jobs. 

It’s an obvious correlation: Higher wages mean higher incomes. Higher incomes mean greater spending, which provides a boost to local economies and encourages more hiring. 

But though this may seem like common sense, you would never know it judging by the strong reaction of some opponents. Despite overwhelming public support, the state Senate refuses to address this issue. 

Make no mistake: Raising the minimum wage — with an indexing provision that will allow the wage to rise with inflation so that it doesn’t erode over the years is a priority for this Unions leadership.

Our support is built on the simple premise that no one who works full time should be poor. Unfortunately, for too many, that is the sad reality. 

Contrast the fortunes of ordinary workers to the wealth of many CEOs. A typical employee at McDonald’s would need to work more than a million hours to earn the pay that the company’s head makes in just one year.

While low wages is a serious issue, poor working conditions, the lack of benefits and the refusal of some of the wealthiest corporations in America to provide their employees with much-deserved raises also compound the frustration of low-wage workers. 

According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, while many corporations are making record profits, workers earning at or near the minimum wage have seen the real value of their paychecks erode, as the cost of living has increased while their wages have stagnated.

Today, in terms of purchasing power, 40% of American families earn less than they did 25 years ago. It is unconscionable for hardworking New Yorkers to labor for 40 hours a week only to struggle to make ends meet.

After all, our communities can reach their greatest potential only when everyone gets a chance to adequately provide for their families and live decently. 

And if we allow this economic injustice to persist, we will all pay a higher price through a population ill-equipped to contribute to our shared future.

Raising New York’s minimum wage, with an indexing provision to ensure that it goes up automatically over time, is one of the moral imperatives of our times. 

It is a matter of social justice. It is a matter of human dignity. It is time to raise the minimum wage.