It was heartening last night to see (I was following live tweets and live blogs of the SOTU instead of listening/watching) that the President want to raise our minimum wage. It is an issue that we at Working Families have been campaigning on for over a year now. We have seen some movement at the state level in NY, Andrew Cuomo wants a raise to $8.75. That’s nice, it is long overdue, but his proposal also leaves out a much-needed provision to tie the minimum wage to inflation so we don’t have to wait a decade for the wages of the poorest workers in our state to catch up to the price of rent and groceries. Food used to be the most inflation proof aspect of our economy, now it is wages.
There are many reasons why it is a good idea to raise the minimum wage, not the least of which is that it has been too long since it has been done. As mentioned above, food and housing prices have gone up all while wages have remained flat. Working full-time at minimum wage gets you roughly $15,000 a year. That’s seven grand less than the poverty level if you have a family. I know what many of you are thinking, that it is kids making that wage. Leaving aside the fact that young people deserve this boost too, so that they can keep up with the ever higher cost of continued education, cars so that they can transition to independent adults, and yes, housing that I am pretty sure their parents want them to eventually move in to, the fact is more than half the people making minimum wage in NY are the primary wage earners in their household. These are people raising families, working full-time, and still needing to go on food stamps. It is unfair to them, unfair to taxpayers and embarrassing as a society. This, however, is not the only reason to raise it.
Minimum Wage is an Economic Issue
Raising the minimum wage to $8.75 (provided the PotUS doesn’t get the federal boost to nine) will put $60 more a week into the pockets of the million poorest workers in NYS. Those people will almost certainly be spending the entirety of their paycheck, they will usually have to. That is 60 million dollars more a week into businesses around the state. That is 30 million more a year in state tax revenue. Not an overwhelming amount to be sure, but a good start, and that isn’t counting the revenue generated by their purchases. That’s money going into businesses, many of which will then need to hire more employees, boosting the economy further.
Minimum Wage is a LGBT Issue
Gay white males do not skew much different from their straight counterparts in the income department. Every other segment of the queer community does however. Lesbian women are more likely to be working minimum wage than straight women. Trans men morel likely to be working for minimum wage than cis men. Trans women are at the bottom of this particular barrel, being far more likely than any of these groups to be relying on minimum wage. It is just another way in which the queer, and in particular the trans, community is oppressed.
Minimum Wage is a Women’s Issue
I don’t need to tell you about the wage disparity between men and women. The President mentioned it last night, and I am grateful for it. Women are more likely to be working for minimum wage jobs in careers we consider “low” service. They are house cleaning in hotels, they are more often the cashiers in grocery stores, hostesses and waitresses in casual dining restaurants where they are not even paid minimum wage and tipping is not optimal, and care takers in day care centers, where they are required to be certified but are still under appreciated. Many of these women are the main bread winners in their household, if not the only one. They are single moms held hostage to deadbeat dads and jobs “willing” to work around a mother’s schedule (ie, “of course you can work only when your kids are in school, but for minimum wage.”) Some of them do not even have that, needing to find more than one minimum wage job so they can pay for childcare.
Minimum Wage is a Racial Justice Issue
It is painfully obvious that too many PoC are working for minimum wage. With city school districts failing so badly, many of these young people can only find jobs in chain restaurants or as janitors in either the private sector, or if they are lucky, the public one (though those workers are under constant attack by anti-union fascists in the name of austerity. Yeah, I’m not mincing words here.) All of the above intersections are made that much more difficult for PoC. Women in general make 17% less than men doing the same work. Women of Color make closer to 30% less. Trans women are more likely to be unemployed than the general population. Trans women of color are more likely to be unemployed, period.
So, What Can We Do?
Well, for starters, call your Assemblyman and State Senator once a week and make sure they know you want, at the very least, that boost to $8.75 an hour. Write letters to them and to the editor of your local newspaper. Make a stink. Also, there are groups out there fighting on this and other economic justice issues. One of them is Citizen Action of NY, another is the Working Families Party, my employers. They both work on this and other issues. You can vote on the WFP line (row D) and give to either, or both, organizations. Coming on as a member at five or ten dollars a month gives either of these groups not just the monetary resources they need to do their work, but the clout to effect real change. The more people we have willing to come on as members, the more your elected officials know you will hold them accountable.
If you live in NY it is vital you help these two groups, and groups like them. I won’t pussy foot around this, five to ten a month to both groups is well with in many of your means. I barely make more than minimum wage and I give five to both. You can get a hold of me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to help. If you live in Buffalo you can deal with me directly for helping the WFP. I can also get you in contact with CANY. If you live anywhere else in NY I can help you get in contact with our nearest satellite office, or if you want, I can have them contact you. We talk about being the change we want to see in the world, well, this is a big way to do it. I hope to hear from you all soon.
Pax et Amor;