New York’s minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 2009, even as the cost of living continues to rise.
But when Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a 20 percent increase — from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 — for the lowest wage most employers can legally pay, some expressed concern it would lead to layoffs in the already fragile local economy. Others, however, pointed to the struggles of the area’s low-income population and said they deserved to be paid more.
“We feel it’s the wrong approach to promoting the economic well-being of New Yorkers and would fall most heavily on small businesses,” said Pamela Matt, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce.
But Steve Darman of Social Science Associates, who studies poverty issues in the area, said the minimum wage has lagged behind the increasing cost of living.
“People can’t make even a basic living when they are employed,” he said. “What are their options? They might as well lose their job and sign up for public assistance.”
Don’t ‘stymie’ growth
Cuomo outlined the initiative in his State of the State address last week, and it is likely to come up in this year’s legislative session, which ends in June.
In his address, Cuomo said any financial hardship to employers would be offset by planned changes to the state’s workers compensation and unemployment rules.
Local officials were tentative in their reactions.
“We are trying to promote growth now, and we don’t want to stymie that,” said state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R - Rome. “I want to ascertain exactly what the impact would be.”
Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D - Utica, said he would have to learn more about the proposed reforms to unemployment and workers comp.
“Two of our most important industries in upstate New York are farming and manufacturing,” he said. “Those might be most affected by a minimum wage increase.”
The state Department of Labor does not have statistics that show how many people in the Mohawk Valley are earning minimum wage.
‘Everything went up’
Adam Cline, of Mohawk, has a wife, a daughter and two dogs depending on him.
The 26-year-old works 32 to 36 hours a week at Burger King in Herkimer and makes $7.50 an hour.
“I have a hard time getting things for my daughter,” he said. “I think it would be outstanding and would help anyone who makes minimum wage.”
The family uses food stamps to help make ends meet, he said.
Sandra Brantis, of Utica, was working a minimum wage factory job in the mid-2000s, when another minimum wage increase was passed.
At first she thought the increase would be a help, but that feeling didn’t last, she said.
Page 2 of 2 - “The food prices and gas prices and everything went up,” she said. “Whatever you were making wasn’t compensating for what everything went up for.”
Now, she is attending Mohawk Valley Community College for data processing and computer repair in the hopes she will be able to find a better-paying job.
‘A rather large bump’
Lynn Loomis, First Choice Staffing employment agency vice president, said many employers already are paying more then $7.25 for their less-skilled jobs, and more are paid as much as $8 or $8.50.
She said she is concerned that businesses might hire fewer people if the wages they have to pay go up.
“It could make them think twice,” Loomis said. “Maybe hire one less person. We don’t want anybody out of work.”
Sales staff at Colozzi’s Cards, Gifts and Collectibles make more than minimum wage, but owner Sam Colozzi called the proposed increase “a rather large bump.”
“I agree that it has to be raised, but I’d like to see if done incrementally, not a dollar and a half all at one time,” he said.