OPINION: Raising NYC’s Minimum Wage: A call to action

As New York City’s economy recovers from the recession, thousands of working families in Brooklyn and the other boroughs face a grim reality: Although one of their members might have a full-time job, the weekly wages they earn are not nearly enough to make ends meet. There are more than 800,000 of the “working poor” in our city, and they struggle to get by — fighting a daily battle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

In some cases, like those of New York City’s airport workers fighting to earn a decent wage, job holders must also rely on public assistance simply to pay their bills. These hardworking New Yorkers live in every corner of our city and more than two-thirds are black and Hispanic, according to Comptroller’s Office data. A large number are young people whose low-paying jobs offer only limited prospects for economic advancement.

It’s also a gender issue: Women make up two-thirds of all employees earning low-paying salaries, according to census statistics. In New York state overall, they typically make 83.6 percent of what men earn — a 16.4 percent  disparity.

More than 37 percent  of New Yorkers facing these conditions live in Brooklyn—over 300,000 people—and much of the problem can be blamed on the state’s paltry minimum wage, which is currently pegged at $8 per hour and is scheduled to rise to $8.75 next year. It is hard to imagine raising a family on such a paycheck, but that’s the harsh bottom line so many confront. What’s worse is that the wage, set by the state legislature, does not reflect our city’s economic realities. Employers pay the same hourly rate in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany as in New York City, which has the nation’s highest cost of living. Clearly, one size does not fit all when it comes to the minimum wage.

That’s why I am calling for the legislature to give our city the power to set its own minimum wage, like a growing number of American cities which have been able to help millions of working families. San Francisco’s minimum wage is already $10.74; San Jose’s is $10.15; Santa Fe’s is $10.51 and Washington D.C.’s is set to rise to $11.50 by 2016. President Obama just announced that he will raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10 an hour. We need to have that same conversation in New York, and correct a gross economic injustice.

I recently testified about this before the state legislature, and pointed out that the benefits of raising minimum wage would pay dividends, not only to working families, but to small businesses which would profit from a huge infusion of cash into our local economy. Raising the minimum wage in New York City to $11.00 per hour would provide an additional $2 billion in annual income to these families. It would be a “win-win” at a time when so many have yet to experience the benefits of a recovering economy.

Last year our state took a big step by increasing the minimum wage to $8.75 in 2015, but we can and must do more to help working families in Brooklyn and other communities.  I hope you will join our campaign to give New York City the right to set its own minimum wage. Please check my website for more information.