New York bishops call for minimum wage increase

Thu, May 3rd 2012 01:10 pm

In our recent visit to the state Capitol in Albany, we had the opportunity to meet personally with Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver, and numerous legislators. While we came prepared to speak on various concerns that we brought to their attention, our first words in every meeting after the initial greetings were "Thank you."

This may sound odd given the very public and profound disagreements we have had on some extraordinarily important issues, but our thanks were genuine nevertheless. Specifically, we thanked them for bringing a new era of competence and cooperation to Albany. We believe in giving credit where credit is due, and we applauded them for that.

With that being said, it is our fervent hope that this spirit of bipartisan cooperation can extend to another critical issue for thousands of New York workers, and that is a modest increase in the state's minimum wage. We are aware that there are many in the legislature who firmly believe such action would have a negative impact on the very people it seeks to help. Perhaps just as many believe the opposite is true. We don't pretend to be economists, but we are pastors, and we do oversee the largest nongovernmental network of health, education and charitable ministries in the state. What we can tell you from first-hand experience is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the working poor of our state to make ends meet. A full-time minimum-wage earner will bring in $15,080 per year, which is $4,010 below the 2012 federal poverty guidelines for a family of three.

Our sustained recession and painfully slow recovery have left many of these workers - often people of color and frequently the newest immigrants to our shores who therefore have the fewest support systems - on the brink of homelessness, with not enough in their paychecks to pay for the most basic of necessities, like food, medicine or clothing for their children. The argument that minimum wage jobs go solely to high school students just entering the workforce does not hold true in the current economy, with the unemployment rate near 10 percent in New York City and 8.5 percent statewide. Workers who previously never would have considered such low-paying jobs are now taking them out of desperation.

By no means do we question the intentions or motivations of our good friends in the legislature who oppose an increase in the minimum wage. But it is our hope and our prayer that the two sides could come together for some sort of action to address the grave problems facing the lowest wage earners in our state. We believe an increase in the minimum wage is a matter of fairness and justice, and we hope it can be addressed soon. And when that happens, we will be so happy to come once again to Albany to say personally, on behalf of those most poor and vulnerable New Yorkers, thank you.  

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