The Debate Over $1.25 An Hour

Under a new proposal currently being debated in Albany, Dawkins and the 91,000 other New Yorkers who make the federal minimum wage will see that hourly wage increase by $1.25.

Five more quarters an hour will not be enough to lift Michelle Dawkins out of poverty, take her off food stamps or get her away from Medicaid, but she said it would make a difference. In 2002 she made $13 an hour as a security screener, but she left the job to take care of her mother, who died of breast cancer two years later. In 2005 she made $11 an hour doing the same job she has now, but for a different company.

“I say any bit, even if it’s a quarter more, you’re gonna turn around and see a difference,” she said. “If it went to 10, it would make a world of difference.”

“We could go to restaurants, we could go to movies, we could get an accountant,” she joked.

Minimum-wage jobs are the fastest-growing sector of the state’s economy, and the number of workers making $7.25 an hour jumped dramatically from 6,000 in 2008 to 91,000 by 2011.

But whether Dawkins receives the extra $1.25 per hour, which will cost her employer an additional $2,900 a year, will have very little to do with how badly she wants or needs it — or even with what economists, business owners and voters say they want — and everything to do with politics in Albany.

The debate over whether or not New York will raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour is still raging. State Republicans don’t want to raise the minimim wage because they point to studies saying that raising the minimum wage would kill a significant number of jobs for unskilled laborers due to increased costs for employers. State Democrats point to studies showing that the studies Republicans point to are flawed, and also: It’s just human decency.

No matter where you land on the debate, the truth is that it’s very difficult to live on $7.25 an hour, and the minimum wage has not changed in New York since 2009, when the federal minimum wage law forced a $0.10 increase from $7.15 an hour. Also, wages need to increase each year due to inflation. What $7.25 bought you in 2009 now buys you less in 2012. Cost of living rises each year, but wages have remained stagnant. That’s clearly a problem.

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