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Raising the minimum wage in New York City to $15-per-hour would not only improve the lives of workers but would also benefit the city economically, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said on Monday. Shown: Chantelle Walker, a Papa John’s employee, with Stringer on Fulton Street. Photo by Mary Frost

Raising the minimum wage in New York City to $15 per hour would not only improve the lives of workers but would also benefit the city economically, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said at a Tuesday press conference with low-wage workers outside a McDonalds in Downtown Brooklyn.

According to an analysis released by his office, a $15 minimum wage, phased in over the next five years, would boost consumer spending, lessen the burden on the city’s social services programs and benefit students.

“New York is the greatest city in the world, but when you factor in cost-of-living, it’s the most expensive city in the country,” he told the crowd gathered on Fulton Street.

Even with full-time jobs, millions of residents are unable to pay for basic necessities, and the city has to lay out money to help support them.

As comptroller, “I gotta look at the bottom line,” Stringer said. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would boost wages by $10 billion a year and change the way we look at workers’ rights across the U.S. It’s not just a social justice issue, it’s an economic imperative for the city.”

Stringer said that when other cities, like Seattle, raised their minimum wage, the local economy benefitted.

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Elizabeth Owens, a community organizer for Vocal New York. Photo by Mary Frost

Elizabeth Owens, a community organizer for Vocal New York, said she used to hold down night jobs at McDonalds and Burger King while living in a homeless shelter. But earning only $8 an hour, she couldn’t afford to put down a security deposit and first month’s rent on her own apartment.

Owens told the Brooklyn Eagle that the shelter charged her $215 a month rent, plus she had to pay for “subway, food and everything else.”

Chantelle Walker, a Papa John’s employee for the last 10 years, said, “It’s a daily struggle. We want $15 and a union. Is $8.75 enough in New York? It’s not enough anywhere.”

Walter Santiago, a baggage handler at LaGuardia Airport for Prime Flight said he can’t make it on $10.10 an hour. “MetroCards just went up, we need our wages to go up.”

The comptroller’s report gives economic backing to the fight by airport maintenance workers, construction workers, adjunct faculty and others for a fair wage, said Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union. The group will be holding a rally at Columbus Circle on Wednesday evening.

Jonathan Westin, director of the organizing group New York Communities for Change said the group launched its campaign for a $15 per hour wage “right here on Fulton Street.”

“We demand $15 and a union,” he said. “We’re glad the comptroller documented this common sense that when you lift wages, you lift the economy for all.”

Michelle Jackson of the Human Services Council (HSC), a coalition of nonprofit human services providers, said, “We help people get jobs, but we can’t be successful if they can’t succeed in the jobs we get them.”

 

Good for business?

Raising the minimum wage will benefit business owners in the long run because businesses will be getting “loyalty and longevity” from their workers,” Stringer said.

At the same time, the city has to do more for small business owners, Stringer said.

“We cannot pit small business owners against workers,” he said. “We have to make sure the city does right by small business owners.”

In March, Carlo Scissura, CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, backed an earlier proposal to raise the minimum wage in New York to $11.50 an hour by 2016.

Scissura told the New York Daily News, “The city and state spend an estimated $50 billion a year on support and services for these lowest income households, including 351,000 who hold down full- or part-time jobs.”

When asked if the city will be paying its own workers $15 an hour, Stringer said that the difference is, “the city sits down with labor, there’s a back and forth. These companies don’t negotiate with their workers.”

The push for the higher wage will “play out at the state level,” Stringer said. “We must hold Albany accountable. “It’s disgraceful for us to be giving workers so little money.”

According to the comptroller’s analysis, a $15 per hour minimum wage would impact 1.45 million workers across the city by 2019, raising wages for those affected by an average of $135 a week.

In Brooklyn, 453,400 workers would see a $3 billion annual wage increase. In Queens, 456,300 workers would be affected, while in higher-earning Manhattan, 237,100 workers would get a raise.  In the Bronx, pay for 256,300 workers would go up, while in Staten Island, 52,800 workers would get a boost.

The study estimates that this new income would result in a raise of $2 billion a year in spending on housing, $600 million on groceries and $400 million on entertainment. Families would spend more money eating out as well. At the same time, the city would spend substantially less on government benefit programs and gain more income from taxes.

Stringer estimates that a $15 per-hour minimum wage would decrease the amount spent on individuals who are eligible for Food Stamps and Medicaid by $200 to $500 million annually. Households would also be expected to pay approximately $250 million in additional city income taxes.

New York State’s minimum wage is set to rise to $9 per-hour in 2016. The state Assembly proposed to increase it to $12.75 per-hour in 2017, $13.75 per-hour in 2018 and to $15 per-hour in 2019.

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