A Living Wage for New York's Workers

David R. Jones | 5/27/2011, 11:50 a.m.

In addition, the study findings showed that not only does a living wage have no significant negative impact on employment in areas which have mandated it for subsidized developers, but it also doesn't scare away companies in general due to fears of having to offer employees higher wages. In the case of San Francisco, a living wage mandate for airport workers did not have an impact on overall employment levels.

Mayor Bloomberg has consistently opposed a living wage law. To buttress his arguments, the city spent $1 million for a report that contends that aliving wage law would result in the loss of thousands of jobs, especially low-skilled jobs. The report was put out by an organization whose consultant economists have been critical of living wage and minimum wage laws in the past and have worked against raising the minimum wage. This is an example of people making $500 an hour - or whatever outsized fee their consultants were paid - determining that others should not make $10 an hour.

Low-Income Hardships

My organization, the Community Service Society, in its annual survey of New Yorkers, "The Unheard Third," revealed that among full-time working poor New Yorkers, workers making less than $18,530 for a family of three, 30 percent fell behind in rent or mortgage payment in the past year, 20 percent could not afford to fill a prescription, and 15 percent had not gotten medical care because of a lack of money or insurance.

Couple this with the finding from a second report produced by my organization which showed that a majority of low-wage workers do not have on-the-job benefits such as paid sick leave, and it is evident that the city should require wages as well as benefits be improved for workers on projects which are made possible by the support of New York City taxpayer dollars.

In addition, without fair wages, costs for basics like food and health care can easily get passed along to taxpayers when low-wage workers are forced to seek public benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid coverage for their children. The result can be a "double-dip" to taxpayer dollars, first in the form of developer subsidies, second in the form of public assistance to workers paid insufficient wages by subsidized developers.

Other cities have shown that living wage legislation has created good jobs for low-income workers without slowing economic growth. It's time for us to require fair wage guarantees for jobs created at developments getting public subsidies. The Council should pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.