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A higher minimum wage in New York

Stuart Appelbaum President | , Rwdsu | 6/14/2013, 2:46 p.m.

$7.25 per hour has been the minimum wage in New York since 2004. Over the past eight years, low-wage workers across the state have seen their cost of living increase and the price of basic necessities like food and shelter jump. However, wages have stagnated, making basic survival more difficult. Our state's minimum wage is one of the lowest in the country, yet this is one of most expensive places to live.

If that sounds unfair and unacceptable, that's because it is. After a long period of inaction by elected officials, New Yorkers want to see the minimum wage go up rather than continue to stay flat. That's why a broad coalition of labor unions, community organizations and grassroots groups is urging Albany lawmakers to raise the minimum wage in New York this year.

A growing number of states and cities are boosting minimum wages in the coming months. They are sending the important message that many working people have earned too little for too long. Instead of low wages that perpetuate poverty, the goal should be higher wages that reduce inequality and create a clearer path toward the middle class.

Places like San Francisco and Santa Fe now have minimum wages above $10 per hour-an acknowledgement that a double-digit hourly wage should be the rule, not the exception, but these aren't the only models for Albany. New York City's living wage movement is very instructive, too, and should help guide what happens next in our state's capitol.

Earlier this month, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, along with the Living Wage NYC Coalition, reached a landmark agreement with the New York City Council that sets a living wage of $10 per hour with benefits or $11.50 per hour without benefits for jobs in taxpayer-subsidized malls and commercial developments. Together with the faith community, unions, immigrants' rights organizations, LGBTQ groups, women's groups, anti-hunger groups, civil rights leaders and many others, we built a vibrant movement for economic justice and achieved a lasting victory for New Yorkers.

This movement has changed the conversation about wages and jobs in New York. It was inspired by the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who died fighting for living wage jobs. His argument was that the wages people are paid, regardless of where they work, must allow for a life of dignity. More than 40 years after King's death, his message still resonates.

Sadly, not nearly enough progress has been made. The many working New Yorkers who remain poor are a stubborn stain on our collective conscience, and won't be washed away until more is done to transform economic vulnerability into economic security.

Participants in the living wage movement are eager to channel their energy and momentum into the campaign for a higher minimum wage in New York. This is an effort to help New Yorkers who have long felt forgotten by and invisible to Albany. They want state lawmakers to fight for them-and win.

Raising the minimum wage is morally right and economically smart. When workers earn more, they spend more, generating demand for new goods and services that help create more jobs. When workers are stronger, so are businesses and so are the communities in which we all live and work. If the recent living wage victory in New York City is any indication, this is another campaign that will succeed.