Clifton Robinson & Joseph Kasko
(Buffalo, N.Y.) – Low-wage workers in New York could soon see a sizable increase in their pay if legislators approve a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Currently, the state already has one of the most generous rates in the nation at $9 per hour. However, lawmakers in California recently reached a deal to increase their state’s minimum wage to $15 and some observers believe New York may be next.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included a $15 minimum wage in his latest budget and April 1 is the deadline for lawmakers in Albany to decide whether or not to endorse the increase.
If approved, the wage would gradually increase to $15, first in New York city by the end of 2018 and would then rise in the rest of the state by the end of 2021.
Earlier this year, Cuomo announced that more than 28,000 workers at New York state universities would see their pay gradually increased to $15 an hour, through executive action. The state already requires large fast food companies to pay their workers $15 an hour.
The minimum wage in New York has steadily increased over the past few years from $7.15 in 2009 to $9 in 2016. The federal rate is currently $7.25 per hour.
A number of business groups have voiced their opposition to the increase, including the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which serves as the chamber of commerce for western New York.
“We believe strongly that this bill is unprecedented in its size and its scope and we fear that this will mean fewer jobs for those who are already struggling and higher consumer prices for goods and services across the board,” said Grant Loomis, from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
“We certainly want to see people earn more, but the problem is that this hasn’t been tried at this level anywhere else,” Loomis said. “No developed country has a minimum wage above $12 an hour when you adjust for purchasing parity.”
Loomis said the partnership believes such an increase would negatively effect employers and consumers, and could lead to numerous job losses. He cited a study produced by the right-leaning Empire Center for Public Policy, which predicted more than 200,000 jobs could be lost statewide due to a $15 minimum wage.
However, Michael Reich, a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, questioned the findings of that report. Reich was the lead researcher on a recent study on the impact of a $15 minimum wage in New York, which concluded there would not be a negative impact on the state’s economy.
Reich said an increase to $15 would raise the standard of living for about 3.2 million workers, by increasing their income by about $4,900 per year.
“About 37 percent of workers would get substantial improvements to their standard of living,” said Reich. “Unemployment levels would not be affected hardly at all. Minimum wage increases, which is costly to businesses, would be absorbed by (businesses) engaging in some automation, lower turnovers of employees and productivity gains by employees.
“The overall effect is more like redistribution from people who eat in restaurants, to the people who work in restaurants, in the industry that is the most affected,” said Reich.
* Producers Brett Ballachino, Madison Marquardt and Taylor Moran contributed to this report.