New York’s successful “Fight for $15” might be in for a refresh. NYC Comptroller Brad Lander projects the state’s hourly minimum wage will fall below $13 in local value when adjusted for inflation.

“When you freeze the wage, even if it’s just for four years—at a time of high inflation—that’s like cutting the minimum wage back down,” he said. “We include in this analysis the purchasing power, the inflation adjusted minimum wage that hit $15 in 2019, but now that’s only worth $12.85 Because as inflation has driven up the cost of rent and food and electrical energy, what $15 bought is only worth $12.85.

“Minimum wage workers have essentially seen a real decrease as a result of inflation through the pandemic.”

Lander adds that 18 other states have confronted similar problems by indexing their minimum wage—in other words, adjusting for inflation to rise alongside the growing cost of living. While the idea was floated here in New York City, lawmakers ultimately opted to maintain a flat $15 hourly pay. It’s remained the same since 2019, despite dramatic pandemic-related inflation over the past few years. 

Currently, there are dueling proposals to index minimum wage in New York. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget plan—promised to benefit women and people of color the most—would increase pay commensurate with Consumer Price Index for Wage Earners (CPI-W), a regional authority on inflation, but is capped at a 3% annual raise. If passed, Lander projects a $.45 minimum wage increase next year and says it is not enough to catch up to inflation rates, which was around 6% this year. Raise Up NY, the alternate bill sponsored by State Sen. Jessica Ramos, is also indexed to CPI-W but mandates a set wage increase up to $21.25 by 2027. 

“Our commonsense plan to peg the minimum wage to inflation will not only put more money into the pockets of hundreds of thousands of hardworking New Yorkers, it will also provide predictability for employers and spur more spending in local economies and businesses,” said Hochul in January.

“The Governor’s proposal for adjustments to our minimum wage does not reflect the seriousness of our affordability crisis,” said Ramos. “With her plan, minimum wage workers would only get $13 more a week—that barely buys you lunch in New York City. We have to do better. We have to raise the wage and then index it to keep pace.”

The Comptroller’s Office also found Black unemployment in the city remains steadily around 10-12% following the COVID-19 shutdown while citywide unemployment rates have cratered since 2021. All the while, other groups are seeing dramatic decreases in unemployment. The Hispanic rate was once the highest in New York City at 23.1% in 2020, but now rests just above city average at 6.8%. White unemployment was around 12% during the height of the pandemic, but is now under 3%. 

“Unemployment amongst what [Community Service Society] calls disconnected youth—which are overwhelmingly people of color—[is] staggering, while white people have [more] connections to get them their first job,” said Lander. “People of color are much less likely to have those kinds of connections into good entry-level jobs. They’re less likely to know someone who runs a law firm or small business. 

“The minimum wage is obviously a little bit of a different thing because it affects if you’re employed, not if you’re unemployed. But it also is true that the folks who are getting paid the minimum wage are overwhelmingly more likely to be people of color and to be women as well.”

And all this ties into public safety for New Yorkers, says Lander. 

“If you’re a young person, and you don’t see a path to a decent job, then your connections to the institutions of well-being and stability are a bad thing,” he said. “That adds up to an unwellness that can express itself in disorder and crime. The more we can help people have jobs to pay enough to live, the better off everybody is.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting

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