Kirsten Gillibrand United States Senator for New York

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Gillibrand, Peralta Joined By Make the Road New York, Queens Small Business Owners, Workers in Calling for Increase in Federal Minimum Wage

Purchasing Power of the Minimum Wage Lagging Behind the Pace of Inflation Hits a Historic Low – Current Minimum Wage Falls $3000 Short of Annual Poverty Line for Hundreds of Thousands Working Poor Families Across New York State

August 21, 2012

Queens, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New York State Senator Jose Peralta were joined at Make the Road New York in Jackson Heights, Queens today by Make the Road New York Co-Executive Director Ana Maria Archila, United NY, Queens small business owners, workers and advocates for working families in calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.80 over the next three years. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, co-sponsored by Gillibrand, would boost the incomes of an estimated 651,000 New York City workers, including approximately 184,000 Queens residents, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, and generate an estimated $618 million of new consumer spending at New York City businesses according to the Economic Policy Institute. Raising the minimum wage is one of the simplest and most effective policies for helping working families, and it is also a tool for economic growth.  When low-wage workers get a raise, they immediately spend it in their local communities, spending which ripples through the local economy.  

“Working poor New Yorkers who go to work every day at minimum wage jobs aren’t even keeping pace with the rate of inflation,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Not only does the current minimum wage oftenkeep these working families below the poverty line, it keeps needed spending power out of our local economy. Increasing the minimum wage is a common sense solution for our working poor families who are deciding which bill they can afford to pay this month and for our local Queens businesses who will profit from additional consumer spending.” 

“There is no question low-wage workers here in Queens and across the country are struggling to make ends meet as costs continue to rise but their paychecks remain stagnant,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley. “Wages must be at a level where New Yorkers can afford rent, put food on the table, and pay their bills and this proposed increase will help these families do just that. Raising the minimum wage also helps stimulate the economy, creating a boost for the many Queens businesses that will benefit from increased consumer spending. I salute Senator Gillibrand and State Senator Peralta for supporting this much-needed effort and I join their fight to create fair wages for all New Yorkers.” 

“During the 1960s and ’70s, a single minimum-wage job could support a family of three,” State Senator Jose Peralta said. “Today, the same job isn’t enough to keep a family out of poverty. Increasing the minimum wage would not only better the lives of New York’s working poor, it would give our economy a much needed shot in the arm. Minimum wage earners cannot afford to sock away money, so any increase will immediately benefit local businesses through direct spending. Raising the minimum wage is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. The time has come to act.” 

“New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and sadly also a place where working people who earn minimum wage don’t make enough to support their families,” said Ana Maria Archila, Co-Executive Director, Make the Road New York. “Most of these workers are Latino and African American women, and they deserve better than to work for poverty wages. Increasing the minimum wage would not only help families put food on the table, but it would also bring new energy into the local economy of neighborhoods like Jackson Heights by putting more money in the pockets of people who will use it at local small businesses in their own neighborhoods.” 

“As a small business owner that employs ten workers, I don't resort to paying my employees just $7.25 an hour – because I know it is just not enough,” said Hanette Gomez, DDS, owner of Clinica Dental Latina in Corona, Queens, and Cosmetic Dental Image in Howard Beach, Brooklyn. “My employees deserve better, and I want to make sure they know I appreciate their work. They deserve a wage that allows them to live with dignity and respect. The cost of living in Jackson Heights has gone way up, and more and more working people need help even just to cover the basics. Paying people a little more lifts all boats, including mine; if more people spend in my neighborhood, my business does better in the long run. And that’s why I pay all my employees above the minimum wage, and why I support legislation that will increase the minimum wage to $9.80. 

“Every day I go to work I wonder if my husband and I are going to be able to pay the bills and spend time with our little daughter Leslie,” said Leticia Guaman, Queens resident and Queens factory worker who makes minimum wage. “I work at a factory that pays only the minimum wage, and after 35 hours of work a week I end up bringing home about $175 after taxes. It is impossible to cover the basic expenses for my family with this salary. For example, in order to cover the monthly rent of $1300, my family sleeps in the living room and we rent out our bedroom. In order to save money, I walk to most places instead of taking the train. How is it possible that two parents working full-time can’t make enough to support their family? We need a higher minimum wage, not just for my family, but for thousands of workers who struggle every day.” 

“Gone are the days when having a job, and going to work every day equate to making a decent living,” said Camille Rivera of UnitedNY.  “Even with parents working multiple jobs, they are still having trouble putting food on the table, and keeping a roof over their kids’ heads.  Increasing the minimum wage would help make it easier to raise a family in New York, while also sending a clear message that workers have rights, and deserve to be treated with respect.” 

Senator Gillibrand, along with 16 of her Senate colleagues, is pushing the effort in the Senate to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, legislation which would increase the minimum wage to $9.80 in three 85-cent increments over a three-year period. To keep up with the rising cost of living, the wage would be indexed to inflation. The purchasing power of the minimum wage is currently at a historic low, with the last increase in the federal minimum wage taking place in July 2009. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be estimated at more than $10.50 an hour today. The legislation will also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in more than 20 years, raising it to a level that is 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. 

A majority of the lowest wage earners in New York, or 84 percent, are adult workers, not teenagers in after-school and seasonal jobs. More than half of low-wage workers are women, many with children, and more than 40 percent are minorities, including an estimated 249,200 Hispanic residents in New York City who would benefit from a pay increase.

According to United NY, someone working full-time at minimum wage earns $290 a week, or just $15,080 yearly without any time off. This annual salary for a minimum wage earning working poor family of three is $3,000 below the poverty level on an annual basis, making it difficult to make ends meet and increasing dependency on government assistance programs. The Fair Minimum Wage Act will boost the minimum wage to $20,000, lifting those working poor families above the poverty line.