Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his 2013 State of the State address that he wants New York State's hourly minimum wage to increase from $7.25 to $8.75, a move that could affect thousands of low-income workers across the region.
The minimum wage in New York has remained $7.25 since July 24, 2009, when low-wage workers across the country saw an increase in pay with a new federal minimum wage. New York's minimum wage was previously just $7.15, but the 2009 federal increase bumped it up by 10 cents.
Now that three and a half years have passed since the last increase in New York, Gov. Cuomo thinks the time is right for low-income workers to receive another bump in pay. Many New Yorkers agree with Cuomo that changes are needed.
$8.75 Still Too Low?
"The cost of living in New York is so high, and everything is going up except my paycheck, so that's where I stand," said 29-year-old Valley Stream, New York, resident Justin Richard. "Why do you think so many people are fleeing New York for North Carolina, Texas, and the Midwest? It's so much cheaper to live there."
Cuomo wants to raise New York's minimum wage by $1.50, which would rank the state as third-highest in the country. Washington State's minimum wage, a whopping $9.19, is currently the highest in the United States, and Oregon is close behind at $8.95.
Many states on the West Coast have rates higher than the federal minimum wage. On the East Coast, Massachusetts and Connecticut both have minimum wages set at $8 and over.
Some cities have also set minimum wages higher than the federal level, as the minimum wage in San Francisco was raised to $10.55 on January 1. According to a 2012 report from SmartPlanet, New York City and Brooklyn both rank higher than San Francisco on the list of top five most expensive cities to live in.
$12 Lunches the Norm in the Big Apple
In New York City, $12 lunches and $13 movie tickets are the norm. One-bedroom apartments cost well above the national average, and just about everything else is more expensive than in other parts of the country.
Many would argue that raising the minimum wage would help the local New York economy by putting money in the hands of people most likely to spend it. "It's a no-brainer. Of course New York's minimum wage should be raised," said 18-year-old Levittown, New York, resident Amanda Balan. "As a college student, it's hard to pay the bills when you're making minimum wage."
Balan works a low-wage, 9-to-5 job in retail while maintaining a full-time college schedule at Adelphi University. The staggering costs of books and tuition put her in a real bind, as her low salary from retail work often forces her to choose between everyday necessities like gas and food.
Will Cuomo Gain Enough Support to Move the Proposal Forward?
The general consensus among New Yorkers seems to be that they favor an increase in the minimum wage. However, many are skeptical that any significant changes will be coming any time soon.
New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. co-sponsored a bill in 2012 that would have bumped New York State's minimum wage to $8.50 as of January 1, 2013, but the bill did not gain enough support to advance. Some New Yorkers fear the same thing will happen this time around with Cuomo's proposal.
"Yes, New York's minimum wage should be raised, but I don't believe it will happen," said 22-year-old Glen Head, New York, resident Liz Mulvey. "The country is broke. It will be difficult to get enough support for it to pass."
Eric Holden, a lifelong New York resident, currently holds a low-wage position close to the minimum wage level. He supports Cuomo's idea to raise the minimum wage to $8.75. Follow the author on Twitter @ericholden.