Obama’s efforts come amid a flurry of others in New York to raise wages. The state’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and has not seen an increase since 2009. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to raise the state’s minimum wage to $8.75 an hour and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has proposed an increase to $8.50 an hour.
But plans to increase the minimum wage are a political hot potato in New York City. In 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a controversial “living wage” bill that would have raised the wage of employees at some companies receiving public subsidies to $11.50 an hour, or $10 an hour with benefits.
Workers like Jackson say the state and federal interest is finally putting some heat on politicians. Indeed, a slew of mayoral candidates say they support a wage increase.
“We are going to keep fighting until we get what we deserve,” said Jackson, who is in his mid-50s and lives in Queens.
Indeed, it will be a fight. Small businesses say they would be most hurt by any wage increases, both in their profits and recruitment and retention efforts.
Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a bakery in Gowanus, Brooklyn, prides itself on already paying workers more than the prescribed minimum. But if other businesses are forced to do so, it says it will be harder to find or keep workers. “We may have to raise our wages to attract better employees,” said Melissa Elsen, the bakery’s manager.
Even though the minimum wage is a federal issue, it’s become an election issue in New York City, namely because of the region’s high cost of living.
“What was so striking to me was that the president had a more progressive vision that what we see here in New York City, and we’re supposed to be the progressive capital in this nation,” said public advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.
During her state of the city address earlier this month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also pushed for minimum wage and said she wants to ease the “middle-class squeeze.” She said, “We need to make sure that the people who want to stay in our great city can afford to stay.”
Argentina native, Carolina Ferreyra worked at a clothing retailer chain for three years, starting at the cash register to creating the store’s website. She was earning $7.25 and earned a $1 raise over the last six months. “I worked 60 hours a week being paid $460,” Ferreyra said. “You can’t make a living with this, especially in New York City.”
Ferreya was fired in 2009, she says, because she often complained about her low wage. The following year, the owner was arrested on wage charges.
“It’s still happening around New York today,” she said. “People need to speak up, especially those who work 70 or 80 hours a week. They deserve a better pay.”
A recent Quinnipiac Poll shows that 80 percent of New Yorkers support increasing the state’s minimum wage to $8.75 from $7.25. Support is also growing at the federal level. According to a new study by the nonprofit National Employment Law Project, three-fifths of all jobs lost during the recession paid a middle-income wage—meaning an annual income of $70,000, enough for a middle-class family of four to get by.
But about three-fifths of new jobs created during the economic recovery pay low wages, according to the study, conducted with the Pew Research Center
“We talk about a great recession and how we bounce back. Well for many New Yorkers, there is no bouncing back,” mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, who ran against Bloomberg unsuccessfully in 2009, said earlier this month as he released a report about low-wage workers in New York.