How much would I like to see New York raise its minimum wage? Let's put it this way: in 2001 as New Yorkers fought to increase the minimum from its then-abysmal level of $5.15, I dressed up in a too-large ostrich costume and paraded outside a strip mall in the Bronx. The goofy attire part of a demonstration in front of the district office of then-State Senator Guy Velella (later convicted on corruption charges, now deceased) and it would take another four years and substantial political maneuvering before a minimum wage increase was finally enacted over the veto of Governor Pataki. It’s now ancient history (and luckily, no photos of me dressed as an ostrich seem to survive on the Internet) but one thing remains: New York’s minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25, the level negotiated back in 2004.
As Anna Pycior noted earlier this week, minimum wage hikes are no-brainers -- at least on a substantive level. With polls showing strong public support for minimum wage increases, they should be a political slam dunk as well (Mitt Romney seems to think they are). What's more, New York’s newest proposal to raise the minimum to $8.50 an hour is far from a radical proposition. Even the conservative weekly Crain’s New York Business called it “worth considering.” That’s a major tip off that, in fact, it’s too modest -- so behind the times that New York is once again about to bested by its neighbor, Connecticut.
This week, a bill was introduced in Connecticut to raise the state minimum wage to $9.75 an hour in two steps and to peg it to inflation so the increase will keep its value. If passed, the bill will promote economic growth by injecting more than $71 million each year into the state’s economy. An increase to that level in New York would have an even larger economic impact, given the greater size of our low wage workforce.
By all means, New York should enact the $8.50 wage bill, and must insist that the minimum be linked to inflation. But we can look next door to Connecticut for a more powerful vision.