A proposed $21.25 hourly minimum wage would benefit 41.8% of the state’s Black workforce directly or indirectly, according to nonprofit think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI). That’s roughly 508,600 Black New Yorkers estimated to receive an earnings boost if the Raise the Wage Act is passed.
Sponsored by State Sen. Jessica Ramos, the bill is one of two dueling plans to index the minimum wage—in other words, to raise the hourly pay annually to match inflation. Unlike the alternative proposal from Gov. Kathy Hochul, the Raise the Wage Act increases minimum wage by a fixed dollar amount before it’s indexed. Ultimately, New York City workers would be making at least $21.25 an hour by 2027 with the bill’s passing.
“Affordability is top of mind for both the legislature and New Yorkers, and we cannot afford to leave any measure on the table,” Ramos told the Amsterdam News over email. “My Raise The Wage Act would raise the wages of 2.9 million New Yorkers and then ensure through indexing that the wages keep pace with rising prices. For all the fear-mongering about the ultra-wealthy leaving New York, the data shows the opposite is happening.
“Black working families are leaving because their wages are not setting them up to be able to become homeowners and build generational wealth. Raising the minimum wage, to ensure that it truly covers the cost of living, has to be a top priority if we want to build a just budget.”
Minimum wage workers are estimated to earn an extra $3,300 a year if the bill passes. The Raise the Wage Act is sponsored in the State Assembly by Democrat Latoya Joyner.
Hochul’s proposal also promises to specifically assist workers of color as well as women, who the Office says both “comprise a disproportionate share of minimum wage workers.” She announced the plan as a part of her 2023 State of the State address last month.
New York City minimum wage’s rise to $15 for fast food establishments and large employers in 2019 was initially seen as a landmark victory for service industry workers. But three years and a pandemic later, fast food and retail employees are once again in need of a raise. Thanks to inflation, a $15 hourly minimum wage today only offers $13.38 in purchasing power back when the raise was enacted, according to City Comptroller Brad Lander.
Last Friday, Feb. 24, SEIU 32BJ union members and other Raise the Wage Act proponents rallied out front of the Charging Bull statue in Wall Street to support a $21.25 minimum wage to “uplift Black futures.” Workers like security guard Elijah Mackey Sr. talked about their experiences successfully fighting for the initial $15 minimum wage increase and why they’re rejoining the new push. Many recall just a $7.25 wage back when they got involved. Mackey later told Amsterdam News the difficult choices he regularly made before he joined the union.
“I was making minimum wage,” he said. “And very often, I found that I had to choose between basic necessities that human beings need [in] paying the rent, or having something to eat. And that’s not a choice I want regular people to make.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also spoke at the rally, commending Hochul for her indexing proposal but insisted his former democratic gubernatorial opponent also raise the minimum wage by a fixed amount before. The governor’s proposal to index the $15 minimum wage is also capped at 3%, meaning it’s not enough to catch up to this year’s 6% inflation rate.
“If you index it at the [lowest] amount, you’re hurting a lot of people and most of those people will be Black and brown,” said Williams. “Most of them will be women working in lower paying jobs. Those are the people who need the most help, not the least help. Companies are making record amounts of profit so they won’t close up shop.
“The only thing that will happen is that people will make more money and be able to pay for a place and be able to not have to make a decision between paying for prescription drugs and paying for food.”
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 https://bit.ly/amnews1.