May 4, 2004

Living wage, minimum wage discussion

A small group of Dryden residents met with Carl Feuer and Pete Meyers of the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition at Martha Ferger's home in the Village of Dryden Tuesday night.

The main topic of conversation was movement on living wage issues, particularly bills in the New York State Senate and Assembly on increasing the minimum wage. The Assembly has passed a bill (A.9710), while the Senate has a bill (S3291-B) under consideration. Both bills would raise the minimum wage in the state to $7.10/hour from the current $5.15/hour over a two year period, though the Senate's bill takes an extra six months to reach $7.10.

Neighboring states Connecticut ($7.10) and Vermont ($7.00), along with Massachusetts ($6.75) and Rhode Island ($6.75), already have minimum wages above the federal minimum of $5.15. At $5.15 an hour, a full-time worker earns $10,712 a year. The federal minimum hasn't increased since 1997.

There was some discussion of a report from the Fiscal Policy Institute, which found that:

"employment growth (all nonfarm employment and retail employment) in states with a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum has performed at least as favorably as in states where the $5.15 federal minimum prevails. That is, state minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wages have not adversely affect employment growth over the past few years. This conclusion holds for both the expansion phase of the economy the years 1998 through 2000 as well as the years of recession and extraordinarily slow growth since then (2001 through 2003)."

The full report goes into much greater detail. An earlier report found that 2900 people in Tompkins County, 6.2% of the workforce, would benefit directly from an increase in the wage to $7.00, while another 2100 people would likely benefit as their wages were increased to avoid wage compression. (Businesses tend to increase salaries that are already above the minimum wage to preserve distinctions between pay levels.)

While $7.10 is still a long way from the $8.68 that Alternatives Federal Credit Union has calculated as a living wage for Tompkins County, it's also a big improvement on $5.15. Feuer reported that the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce had just voted to support the Senate bill increasing the minimum wage, and most of the attention seems to be on the Senate right now. A majority of senators may in fact support the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno hasn't scheduled a vote.

State Senator James Seward, whose district includes the Town of Dryden, has apparently written in letters that he supports an increase in the minimum wage but would prefer to see it done at the federal level. (That sounds gentler than his positions in this article, though that was two years ago.) Washington seems unlikely to act under its current leadership.

If you have opinions on this subject, please contact Senator Seward at:

Senator James Seward
41 Main Street
Oneonta, NY 13820
(607) 432 5524
(518) 455 3131

The group is also planning to have letter-writing and telephoning sessions in Dryden and Freeville in May.

Posted by simon at May 4, 2004 9:52 PM in ,
Note on photos