For several years, the issue of economic fairness has been at the front of the conversation, both in our city and across the nation.
Now, in Albany, our state faces another critical choice in the ongoing fight for economic equity. A new bill, sponsored by Senator Klein, seeks to raise New York's minimum wage to $8.50 per hour, and to index future increases to the rate of inflation.
This sensible, common sense legislation will go a long way towards improving the quality of life of our lowest wage earners, and we urge the New York State Legislature to make it law.
Critics have stated that any proposal to raise the minimum wage in our state will stunt our economy and kill jobs. But this argument flies in the face of all available evidence. In fact, a report released in April by State Senator Klein's office notes that this increase in the minimum wage would, in fact, help our economy.
For starters, the report shows that such an increase would infuse an additional $600 million in spending into our State, while also creating roughly 5,300 full-time equivalent jobs, precisely what we need to help get our economy moving.
The report also points that raising the minimum wage will directly or indirectly increase the wages of more than one million New Yorkers, which is a good step towards helping our low-income families out of poverty in these tough economic times where the cost of living has soared an all time high.
Since 2009, the minimum wage in our state has remained stagnant at just $7.25 an hour; under any measure it is unrealistic to expect this meager sum, to support an individual, much less a family.
A recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) recommends that the state should gradually increase, enact, and phase in a $10 an hour minimum wage by 2014.
The report claims that at its peak purchasing power in 1970, the minimum wage was $10.70 in today's dollars. According to the report, that is 48 percent higher than the current $7.25 minimum wage. Furthermore, it concludes that if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since the 1960s, it would be more than $12 an hour today.
By raising the minimum wage New York will also keep up with its regional competitors. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, already have a higher minimum wage than the federal level and a higher minimum wage than our state, while New Jersey is set to raise its minimum wage later this year.
At the same time, a minimum wage increase will allow our working men and women to better support their families and enjoy the economic benefits that will come from putting more money into the hands of consumers. When low-wage workers have a little extra money in their pockets, they spend it on necessities -- from winter clothes to school supplies to paying the rent and their utilities.
Once, New York's minimum wage was a national leader, now our state must not fall behind and continue at the forefront of progressive policy initiatives. It's time to rebalance the scales. It's time for New York to raise the minimum wage.
The following op-ed, written jointly by Borough President Diaz and State Senator Jeff Klein, appeared in "El Diario La Prensa" on May 3, 2012.
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