Number of Minimum Wage Earners Surges in New York

New York state minimum wageIt's not easy living on minimum wage in New York state. That's especially true in New York City, long known as one of the most expensive cities in the nation and the world, where eking out a living on $7.25 an hour for many means a meager existence at best.

Making matters worse in the Empire State is that vastly more workers are earning just the minimum wage than existed just three years ago, The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription may be required). The number of minimum-wage earners swelled to about 91,000 last year, up from 6,000 in 2008, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The data showing the growing ranks of the working poor come to light just as lawmakers in Albany debate boosting the state's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. That's a rate, the Journal notes, that would make New York's minimum age among the highest in the nation.

The effort is being shepherded by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat who represents lower Manhattan. Silver's push comes in spite of business interests in the state who argue that raising the state's minimum wage would push employers out of the state in search of cheaper labor.

The state's leading Republican, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, opposes raising the standard, while the state's popular Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, hasn't yet taken a public stance.

Neighboring New Jersey's minimum wage currently stands at $7.25, which along with New York's matches the federal standard. Connecticut, meanwhile, mandates workers be paid at least $8.25 an hour. (Washington state has the highest minimum wage -- at $9.04 an hour, followed by Oregon and Vermont, with wage floors of $8.80 and $8.46 an hour, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.)

Despite Connecticut's higher minimum, few workers there earn only the minimum, notes MediaJobsDaily. In New Jersey, some 50,000 workers earn the base wage.

What's driving the climb in the number of minimum wage workers? Blame it on the recession, which wiped out many good-paying jobs, including many well-paying construction and manufacturing jobs, leaving many with nowhere else to turn but to take low-paying jobs.

The glut of available labor also means employers have little incentive to pay workers higher wages, since so many are looking for work.

As chief economist James Parrot of the nonpartisan Fiscal Policy Institute told the newspaper, "Employers decide to pay less because they can, and workers have less options and are more desperate, so they are prepared to accept lower wages."

Of course, New York isn't the only state to see its ranks of minimum-wage workers surge. Across the nation last year, some 1.68 million people earned just the bare minimum, the Journal notes.

That number is more than five times the 286,000 Americans who earned the basic wage in 2008.

Proposal to boost New York state's minimum wage to $8.50:

Next:States Ponder Minimum Wage Increases

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