NY Raises Minimum Wage $0.10, We Do the Math

By Guest Columnist Jul 31, 2009

photo credit: Majeed Babar, c/o New York Community Media Alliance By Miriam Leshin On Monday, ethnic and community news media representatives gathered for a press conference on the recent 10-cent increase in the New York state minimum wage and its implementation in immigrant communities. Terri Gerstein, deputy commissioner of the New York Department of Labor; Maritere Arce, director of the Department of Labor Bureau of Immigrant Workers Rights; Hector Figueroa, secretary treasurer of the Service Employees International Union; and Rajesh D. Nayak, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project briefed the audience on the challenges facing the enforcement of the new minimum wage, which increased from $7.15/hour to $7.25/hour on July 24. Initially, I was impressed that this press conference—which The New York Community Media Alliance organized in collaboration with several other groups—even occurred in the first place. Sitting in the CUNY Graduate Journalism Center on Monday, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Gerstein and Arce detail several ways in which the Bureau tries to reach out to immigrant communities—through town hall meetings, know-your-rights workshops, and collaboration with community-based organizations. In theory, it all sounded well thought-out and even innovative. Then I went home and did the numbers. Although the 10-cent increase may seem like nothing (and it is), this is really a $200 increase per year, for people working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year. Before taxes, that is. Under the previous minimum wage of $7.15/hour, workers earned $14,300/year without overtime hours, whereas with the new minimum wage this is up to $14,500/year. So that’s $14,500 a year, before taxes. But if you take the subway to work and buy an unlimited monthly pass, which costs $89/month or $1068/year, then your yearly income becomes $13,432. The 2009 poverty line for one person is $10,830. Okay…? But what if you have a child? The poverty line for a family of two is $14,570. Uh-oh. Obviously minimum wages are necessary and increases in them are welcome—Figueroa and Nayak noted this at the conference. But what is the point of a minimum wage that keeps people just a little bit above poverty? Or, if they have any family at all, below poverty? If minimum wages in principle are supposed to ensure that workers can support themselves and their families, then the current minimum wage in New York in practice is not adequate. Make the practice match the principle and join the fight for a living wage.