Several months ago, we expressed our concern about the living wage, and we were thrilled to hear that it was also an important issue for Mayor Bill de Blasio. In fact, it appeared to be a top agenda item for the new man in charge of the city. But, alas, it seems to have bounced off his radar screen and no longer has the priority it had during his promising State of the City address.
Mr. Mayor, when we endorsed you for election, we stated that “We need jobs with sick leave, a decent living wage and a concerted push for income equality. We need schools that educate the whole child and do not leave so many behind; schools that prepare this generation for college and careers that can bring them out of the shadows of poverty; and most importantly, to achieve all these endeavors, a pre-K system that actually provides a full day of school so that parents can enroll their children at age 4, thereby giving them a leg up.”
Mr. Mayor, you have lived up to some of those promises—sick leave for workers was expanded; a pre-K program exists across the state, although without your plan to tax the rich; and the minimum wage was given a boost. You lived up to practically everything but the living wage. And while these measures are a vast improvement over the previous administration, increasing the living wage would give you a decisive distinction in the comparison game.
But your administration should not be about comparison to anyone. In so many ways, you have already, in your brief tenure, established a unique persona, a fresh approach to the old “business as usual” malaise.
Your mantra of “The Tale of Two Cities,” those living the good life, often at the expense of others, and those on the brink of existence and hardly living at all, cannot be just another piece of rhetoric that is easily said and then forgotten.
And what exactly is a living wage?
A living wage is basically calculated on the cost of living in a particular region or community. It is not an arbitrary figure. A worker who puts in a 40-hour week ought to earn enough money to take care of the essential needs—food, clothing and shelter. At the moment, New York’s minimum wage is $8 an hour for most employees, with exceptions for tipped employees, some student workers and other exempt occupations.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that it’s a daunting struggle to survive in New York City with a job that pays only $8 an hour, and such a lot is particularly burdensome for a single parent with three or four children to care for.
We needn’t remind you, Mr. Mayor, about those on the desperate side of the “Two Cities.” They are the ones who devoted time and effort to make sure you were elected. They are the ones who believed in you and listened intently when you said you believed in them.
Things have not gotten any easier since you came into office, at least, in terms of economic equality, although you have taken some meaningful steps to close the gap between the haves and have-nots. But they are waiting patiently for you to exercise your authority on the living wage.
You are certainly not unaware of what a couple more dollars an hour could mean to the working poor, to a family struggling to make ends meet before they meet the end. You have demonstrated on other occasions that you know how to make good things happen. Live up to your promise on the living wage.