A gallon of milk starts at $5 at a local grocery store here in Queens. And a dozen eggs cost between $6 and $10. These prices were unheard of just five years ago. But today, we are experiencing the most serious cost-of-living crisis in 40 years, and working-class New Yorkers are bearing the brunt. Yet somehow, corporations are making record profits. While CEOs and executives earn record salaries, New York workers deserve a raise. And the small, local businesses that form the foundation of our communities also need support. The solution is clear: raise the minimum wage to at least $21.25.
A broad coalition of affected workers, unions, advocates and legislators, including myself, are fighting for the Wage Raise Act, legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $21.25 by 2026 in New York City before “indexing” it ” to automatically increase with cost. to live Both the Senate and the Assembly committed to this fight with budget proposals that increase the minimum wage before indexing wages to inflation. This is the best way to ensure that New Yorkers can earn a living wage to meet their basic needs and the needs of their families.
$21.25 isn’t just a random number — it’s equal to what the minimum wage would be if $15 had been indexed in 2018, given the financial hardship low-wage workers have been experiencing in recent years. That same $15 from 2018 is worth just $12.75 in today’s dollars.
An indexed minimum wage of $21.25 would benefit a staggering 2.9 million workers statewide with an average annual raise of $3,300, or $63 per week. Compare that to Governor Hochul’s proposal to index New York’s minimum wage up from the existing $15: 900,000 New Yorkers would receive just an additional $13 per week; who just buys you a sandwich. Workers earning low wages, just a few dollars above $15, would also not be included. On the contrary, the Wage Increase Act represents real money that could make all the difference for families trying to make ends meet; money that they could then spend on local businesses that desperately need it as well.
We were in a similar fight 10 years ago when I served as city comptroller and issued a report, “Working but Still Fighting: The Case for a Minimum Wage in New York City.” At the time, the city’s minimum wage was $7.50 per hour, well below the cost of living, and we recommend raising it to $11.50 per hour and indexing for inflation.
Here we are 10 years later, and we’re still fighting an expanded version of the same fight. Workers of color led and won the fight for a $15 minimum wage. As a result, one in three workers received wage increases of more than $4,000 per year without causing job loss. A $15 minimum wage led to historic reductions in poverty and income inequality in New York, as well as job growth. In fact, from 2013 to 2019, New York City employment grew by more than 18%, compared to 14% for cities that did not raise the minimum wage.
In a county as diverse and vibrant as Queens, the positive impacts of a fair minimum wage reach all of us. Raising the minimum wage to $15 not only resulted in higher earnings for workers, it helped businesses retain their employees, saving them hiring and retention costs, and boosted sales at local businesses.
The governor’s indexing proposal is a great start and would make New York the 19th state in the nation to tie the minimum wage to rising costs, but workers need a raise first. Historic profits from the Fight for $15 have stalled as the cost of living has skyrocketed and the minimum wage has remained frozen in New York City. Refusing to raise the minimum wage before indexation is essentially codifying a sub-living wage, and it puts us back in the same boat we were in 10 years ago.
New Yorkers literally no longer have the luxury of just catching up; we need to keep up with the costs of living that continue to rise year after year. Let’s support the coalition of workers, unions, community organizers and businesses fighting to restore the minimum wage, an overwhelmingly popular in all political parties. Collectively, we can ensure that all New Yorkers have the means to live a safe and dignified life. A minimum wage of $21.25 is what they need and what they deserve.
Liu represents Flushing, Bayside and Fresh Meadows and other Queens neighborhoods in the state Senate.