In a city like Ithaca, where the cost of living is roughly thirty thousand dollars a year, workers are finding it difficult to live off the current minimum wage of nine dollars an hour.
Last year, there were protests throughout the country discussing the need for the minimum wage to catch up to the living wage, which is estimated to be approximately $14 across the state.
In New York City, the #Fightfor15 movement began when fast food workers all over the city went on strike last year, demanding an hourly wage that would cover their living costs.
The Dunkin Donuts in Ithaca, owned by the Wolak Group, start their workers at 75 cents more per hour than minimum wage.
One of the industries that had the most push for a higher minimum wage was the fast food industry.
Janice Singleton, store manager of a Dunkin Donuts in Ithaca, pays at a higher rate than minimum wage but she realizes that even this is not enough.
“We start our workers with an extra seventy-five cents on top of minimum wage but even my full-time employees struggle from check to check,” Singleton said. “Ithaca is an expensive place to live, and when you’re working 40-plus hours a week and still have to choose which bills you’re going to ignore this month…something needs to change.”
Since the first minimum wage protests in NYC, the movement has spread over six continents and hundreds of cities, and there has been legislation changes in places like Los Angeles and Seattle to raise the minimum wage to be closer to the cost of living in the respective areas.
In Tompkins County there are currently 106 employers who participate in a living wage certification program run by the Tompkins County Workers Center.
Pete Meyers, coordinator at TCWC, said that these employers are just an example that a higher nationwide minimum wage is possible.
“We have plenty of participation just in the county with businesses and companies getting living wage certified, and there’s certainly companies who haven’t completed the training who pay a comparable amount to their employees,” Meyers said.
“But there’s also a lot of human service workers who are funded by the state and federal government, and in order to be paid a living wage, [the government sector] needs to figure out their funding,” he continued.
New York joins the $15 minimum wage trend
On April 4, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law that will raise the minimum wage in New York State over a period of time.The plan, which was included in the 2016 – 2017 state budget, would eventually raise the minimum wage to $15 across the state.
According to the governor’s website, the increase would be made in different phases based off of the location in the state:
The plan has already received criticism by the public, particularly for the different pays in the different regions of the state.
As seen in the outlining of the plan, while New York City and adjacent areas would reach $15 in the next few years, other regions would only be reaching a minimum wage of $12.50. It would then be determined off of the available state budget to see how long it would take to level out with the rest of the state.
“The rationale behind those places reaching the living wage earlier is because the cost of living is generally higher in areas like New York City,” Meyers explained. “And while some of Upstate and Central New York do have lower costs, there are also areas like Ithaca where the cost of living is about the same.”
Cuomo’s plan also included a 12 week family paid leave which would become “the most comprehensive family leave program in the nation,” according to the governor’s website.
California had a similar law signed by Governor Jerry Brown on April 4, raising California’s minimum wage to $15.