The Working Poor – One Million Strong in New York

There is a political battle brewing in Albany over $1.25. Raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 is a big deal for our politicians, but it’s an even bigger deal for the one million workers that would be affected.

These one million workers make just 82 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of three. Put differently, a person working 40 or even 45 hours a week at minimum wage still cannot break the poverty line. This should be unacceptable, especially among politicians who tout the importance of work in escaping poverty.

For nearly two decades prior to 1980, a minimum wage worker earned 108 percent of the poverty threshold and the purchasing power was 48 percent greater than it is today. And while 18 other states have minimum wages greater than $7.25, New York continues to lag behind, even as the gap between rich and poor in New York remains the highest in the nation.

New York needs to take this first step. And, to be clear, it should be just that – a first step. Because even if the minimum wage is raised to $8.50, those earners will still only make 95 percent of the federal poverty level—nowhere near a true living wage. While big banks continue to make millions for crashing our economy and vaporizing billions of dollars, the working poor are being left behind, with an hourly wage that does not match the true value of their work.

Data and statistics on the minimum wage can be found at the Fiscal Policy Institute.

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