In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined an agenda intended to cement New York’s position as the “progressive capital of the nation.” His agenda items included many issues like job growth, gun control and stop-and-frisk regulations, with which I am politically aligned. In fact, I am pleased to have been one of the 43 “yes” votes in last week’s historic passage of the SAFE Act, which, inter alia, calls for a tougher assault weapons ban. Our actions on this issue will make New York safer and stronger than ever before.
But as Senator of the 21st Senate District in Brooklyn, I too have an agenda that tackles issues of particular importance to my constituents. They include decriminalizing marijuana, putting New York City’s police force under the oversight of an independent, objective inspector general, and helping New Yorkers with autism and autism-spectrum disorders. However, the issue that is most pressing on our daily lives is increasing the state’s minimum wage.
In these still difficult and uncertain economic times, too many New York families are being forced to live paycheck to paycheck. The fact is, the state’s minimum wage has not kept up with inflation since the 1960s. A depressed minimum wage of $7.25 has been devastating for New York families, who have seen their standard of living drop while living through the longest economic recession in U.S. history.
A full-time employee making the minimum wage earns approximately $14,500 a year. How can we expect anyone to raise a family on a minimum-wage-earner’s income? Yet, 70 percent of minimum-wage employees are adults and 45 percent work full-time, dispelling the notion that minimum-wage workers are teenagers working part-time.
It is worth remembering that behind the numbers are teenagers saving for college, seniors supplementing their fixed incomes or a parent working an extra job to improve the quality of life for their families. They are all hundreds of thousands of hard-working minimum-wage earners who help keep New York’s economy going.
Hand in hand with raising the minimum wage is job creation. To stimulate job growth, I introduced legislation to attract new international investment to New York state. However, we must also support the small and “micro” businesses that employ most of our community.
The increased economic optimism in our nation must translate into support for the small business sector. Because entrepreneurial small firms are such an important part of the American economy, what is good for the overall economy is also good for small business. It is by unleashing the energies of budding entrepreneurs that we will revive and sustain the economies of our city, state and nation.
Finally, with the critical issues facing the Legislature this session, it will require more than just Tylenol solutions to reach the goal of being the “socially progressive and fiscally responsible” state that Cuomo is trying to create. In short, what we need is a government as good as our people. If we do that, we can proudly call ourselves the Empire State again, and our best days will be ahead of us.
Kevin Parker is the state senator representing the 21st District in Brooklyn, which comprises Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, Kensington, Park Slope and Windsor Terrace.