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Workers in retail need $15 an hour to survive

Stuart Appelbaum | 1/21/2016, 11:33 a.m.
Nicole Brown, a 32-year-old single mother working in retail, shared her story at a press conference in Albany, N.Y., this ...
Stuart Appelbaum

Nicole Brown, a 32-year-old single mother working in retail, shared her story at a press conference in Albany, N.Y., this month. She spoke of working in retail for 10 years yet struggling to pay her rent and provide for her family. While working, she and her daughter have been forced to depend upon food stamps and even homeless shelters.

That’s what she has had to do to survive making under $10 an hour working in retail. What would make a difference for Brown and thousands of other retail workers in New York?

“I fight for $15 an hour because it will bring me and my daughter that much closer to freedom and financial independence,” Brown said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is working to raise New York’s minimum wage from a woefully inadequate $9 per hour to $15 an hour, which would give minimum wage workers a chance to provide for themselves and their family, and to make up some ground in the fight against economic inequality that is making life a struggle for too many New Yorkers. He’s taken immediate action by ordering $15 an hour for state workers and state university workers, and implementing a plan to raise fast-food workers’ pay to $15 an hour as well. Additionally, he has launched a campaign to push for a $15 minimum wage throughout New York.
Cuomo’s campaign is an appropriate response to a minimum wage that has stagnated and continued to lose real value against inflation since the 1970s. With so many retail workers earning minimum wage, this move would help boost our economy and strengthen our communities. Retail work can and should support families in New York, and nobody who works in New York should live in poverty, which is unfortunately all too common today. Hardworking New Yorkers deserve $15 an hour.

An increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour needs to be unconditional. During the campaign to raise the wage, we shouldn’t allow it to be watered down with any exceptions or givebacks to industries that have profited from the insufficient minimum wage in New York for decades.

Government action leading to an unconditional $15 minimum wage can help us realize the promise of a New York economy that serves everyone.