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editorial

It’s time for a raise


March 20, 2013

In Albany, the New York State (NYS) Assembly has approved a bill to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, the same figure President Obama recommended in his January State of the Union address when he talked about the need to help America’s working poor. In his own budget address, Governor Cuomo also called for an increase to $8.75 in New York. Now, in the GOP-controlled NYS Senate, a coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats reportedly is discussing the possibility of gradually raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to an unspecified amount over the next several years.

We at The River Reporter believe it’s time for a raise for America’s lowest paid workers.

To put things in perspective, a wage of $7.25 an hour amounts to $15,080 a year. Nine dollars an hour would be $18,720 a year, and even this is not a “living wage” as many people define it, setting the bar at the federal poverty level for a family of four. In 2013, federal guidelines set the poverty level at $23,550.

Here are some more figures to digest:

The total number of Americans in low-income working families now stands at 47.5 million. Nationwide, nearly one third (32%) of all working families do not earn enough to meet basic needs. More than a third of children in families with a working adult live in low-income circumstances. Right here in our state, more than 55% of workers in New York who receive minimum wage are women, many of them with children. Further, the percentage of low-income working families in New York is 28%.

The main argument against raising the minimum wage comes from business, which seeks to maximize profits, including by keeping workers’ wages low. Business argues that such a mandated raise destroys jobs and increases unemployment particularly among young and unskilled workers by pricing them out of the market, and that in response employers cut budgets, lay off workers or decide not to hire. In the long run, business argues that higher wages hurt not only profit margins but the wider economy as well, as increased labor costs are passed on to consumers.