Governor Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Proposal Keeps Many New Yorkers in Poverty

by Dana Dohn

On January 21, 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo presented his “2015 Opportunity Agenda” during the New York State of the State Address.[1] Included in the sixty-six proposals that Governor Cuomo made during his address were plans to make major tax cuts and raise the minimum wage for both the state and New York City.[2] The current New York state minimum wage is set at $8.75 per hour and will rise to $9 per hour by the end of the year.[3] Governor Cuomo’s proposal, pending approval from the legislature, will raise the state minimum wage to $10.50 per hour and New York City’s minimum wage to $11.50 per hour by the end of 2016.[4]

This new state minimum would surpass Washington’s rate, giving New York the highest statewide minimum wage in the country.[5] During the State of the State Address, Governor Cuomo announced that this change is due to the inability of New Yorkers to support themselves on the current state minimum wage, stating, “[w]e believe if you work full-time you should be able to pay the rent and pay for food and not live in poverty. That’s the basic promise of employment, and we’re not there yet.”[6]

If approved, New York City’s separate minimum wage would be the first time in history that the city minimum differs from the rest of the state.[7] This proposal to set New York City’s minimum wage at a higher rate than the state minimum wage also sharply contrasts with Governor Cuomo’s opinions from just last year.[8] Until this past summer, Governor Cuomo was against the idea of allowing different municipalities throughout the state to have varying minimum wages, stating that it would create chaos and force New York cities to compete with one another.[9]

Although Governor Cuomo’s proposal appears to be a step in the right direction, some see the proposed minimum wage changes as insulting to New York City’s low-wage earners.[10] Bill Lipton, the state director of the Working Families Party that began to change Governor Cuomo’s outlook on varying minimum wages, was disappointed that the plan did not go as far as the $13.13 per hour minimum wage for New York City that was discussed in an earlier proposal that the Governor had supported.[11] This proposal reflects a failure on the Governor’s part to uphold a campaign promise that he made last May that would allow high cost areas, such as New York City, to establish minimum wages that are up to thirty percent higher than the state minimum.[12]

Despite the hike, the current proposal, if approved, would still leave New York City’s minimum wage far lower than the rates already approved in other large cities throughout the country, such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle.[13] Unlike these other approved raises, Governor Cuomo’s proposal is not tied to a cost-of-living index, which he promised would occur during his race for reelection.[14] Without a cost-of-living index adjustment or the ability for other high-cost areas, such as Long Island, to adjust the minimum wage, low-wage earners will continually have to battle for small wage increases in order to survive.[15] Although this plan appears promising on its face, it is still greatly disadvantaging New York’s citizens on a national level. This disadvantage defeats the purpose of Governor Cuomo’s plan and will fail to allow full-time working New Yorkers to move up and live outside of poverty.

[1] 2015 Opportunity Agenda, N.Y. State (Jan. 21, 2015), https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/2015-opportunity-agenda.

[2] See id.; Jessica Corso, Cuomo Unveils Vision for NY With Tax, Minimum Wage Plans, Law 360 (Jan. 21, 2015, 5:59 PM), http://www.law360.com/articles/613615/cuomo-unveils-vision-for-ny-with-tax-minimum-wage-plans.

[3] See Claire Zillman, New York could soon have the highest minimum wage in the U.S., Fortune (Jan. 21, 2015, 4:43 PM), http://fortune.com/2015/01/21/new-york-minimum-wage-highest-us/.

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6] See id.

[7] See Kenneth Lovett, Erin Durkin, Ben Kochman & Stephen Rex Brown, Cuomo: Raise the minimum to $11.50 in New York City, $10.50 in rest of state, N.Y. Daily News (Jan. 18, 2015, 2:48 PM), http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/gov-cuomo-raise-minimum-11-50-new-york-city-article-1.2083156.

[8] See Sam Levine, Andrew Cuomo Will Propose Raising New York Minimum Wage, Huffington Post (Jan. 18, 2015, 4:22 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/18/andrew-cuomo-minimum-wage_n_6497286.html.

[9] See id.

[10] See, e.g., id.; Juan Gonzalez, Gonzalez: Andrew Cuomo’s minimum wage hike is an insult to low-pay workers, N.Y. Daily News (Jan. 20, 2015, 10:39 PM), http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/gonzalez-andrew-cuomo-minimum-wage-hike-insult-article-1.2086191.

[11] See Levine, supra note 8.

[12] See Gonzalez, supra note 10.

[13] See id.

[14] See id.

[15] See id.

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