When I was in middle school, the band They Might Be Giants came out with a song called Minimum Wage. My friends and I loved shouting, “Minimum Wage—Hee-ahhh” (just like the song). But we never really thought about what it meant.
As I write this, the New York state budget is two days away from a vote. Part of that vote is whether to move forward with Governor Cuomo’s proposal to raise the minimum wage in New York from $9 to $15 an hour by 2021 (a 67% increase). It’s a heated debate with strong voices on both sides of the coin.
Many regional chambers of commerce and business groups are strongly opposed to the idea. According to Frank Castella, Jr., president and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, “Our boards of directors, members and community organizations are all in agreement, Governor Cuomo’s proposal will cripple the economy in the Mid-Hudson Valley. The addition of the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Business Council of Westchester to the other standing organizations means we are that much stronger against this egregious proposal.”
But on the other side of the aisle are the hard workers who can’t afford to put food on the table, people who go without medical care for lack of money, and laborers who can only work where public transportation can bring them. At a recent Re>Think Local event in Kingston, Michelle Long (founder of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) talked about how McDonald’s is now helping their workers create household budgets; the company recommends that their workers get another full time job in order to make ends meet. I believe that the employees would prefer to make more money instead—money that will circulate in the local economy.
I understand both arguments. As a business owner, it’s sometimes hard to make payroll already (although I do pay well above minimum wage). When I increase my prices my clients don’t appreciate it. But as a person who cares about the success and happiness of all of my neighbors, I am in favor of a living wage for all.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the vote turns out, and to discovering the ways that entrepreneurial and working class heroes work together to find prosperity.
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