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Help or Hindrance?

Hearings set for hike in minimum wage

April 22, 2012
By MIKE ZUMMO , The Leader Herald

This week, the question of whether to raise the minimum wage in New York state will go to the public.

The state Assembly plans to hold the first two of three public hearings on raising the minimum wage to $8.50 next year. The hearings will be Monday in New York City and Tuesday in Syracuse.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Keith Wright, who chairs the Labor Committee, have introduced legislation to raise the hourly minimum from $7.25 and index it to inflation.

Silver says the hearings are the next step in the process and communities need to speak up.

There also will be a hearing May 11 in Buffalo.

State Sen. Jeffrey Klein and other members of the Independent Democratic Conference have released a report that claims the measure could generate $600 million in economic activity and create 4,800 jobs. Business opponents say it will increase their costs.

Gloversville Mayor Dayton King came out against the hike in a letter to the editor, published Feb. 2, saying the bill may cost jobs by raising the cost to local businesses. He said the proposal won't do anything to create jobs in the area.

"Until our state and federal government give incentives to businesses for hiring people in New York and within the United States and penalizing those who send jobs overseas proportionately, we are going to see fewer jobs created here, not more," King wrote in the letter.

The minimum wage was set in 2007 at $7.15 in New York and two years later raised by 10 cents with the federal minimum wage.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and 15 other states have higher rates.

A bill that would raise Connecticut's minimum wage by $1 an hour over the next two years to $9.25 is circulating in that state's legislature.

Silver says a new poll by Quinnipiac University shows 78 percent of voters support raising the minimum wage.

Almost 53 percent of Republicans support the measure, which is opposed now by the Senate's Republican majority. The GOP fears raising the wage will force employers to eliminate jobs to afford the higher pay.

The poll shows 52 percent of voters support increasing the minimum over $8.50 an hour.

The poll questioned 1,597 voters from March 28 to April 2. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

However, a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute says a raise in the minimum wage will only affect middle-class and second-income workers.

It listed three reasons:

Many people living in poverty don't work and can't benefit from a higher wage.

A large number of minimum wage earners are not living in poor families.

Raising the wage can lessen demand for the least-skilled employees.

When Silver brought forth the push to increase the minimum wage earlier this year, it was met by opposition from the New York Farm Bureau and the New York State Business Council.

In a news release, both organizations said the law, if passed, would put its members at a competitive disadvantage, saying there is no evidence that will decrease poverty or increase employment.

"Raising the minimum wage would only hurt New York's small businesses and not-for-profits that are struggling to make their current payrolls and reduce job opportunities in this difficult economy," Heather Bricetti, Business Council president and CEO, said in the release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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