Coming of Wage

Cartoon by Stefanie Diers.

In August, Ulster County Legislature Chairman John Parete made a proposal to establish a $15 per hour minimum wage for county employees. The proposal, which is supposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2016, was blocked recently by the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee. The Committee voted 4-2 in favor, but needed five votes to approve the legislation.

We at The New Paltz Oracle are in favor of Chairman Parete’s proposal that Ulster County workers should be earning at least $15 per hour, as the current state minimum wage of $8.75 simply isn’t enough to support a good quality of life for one’s self and their family.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator, the living wage, one that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living for a single adult in Ulster County, is $10.92 per hour. Add a child into the equation and the living wage more than doubles to $24.91 per hour. For a household of two adults and two children, both parents need to make $24.03 per hour to support themselves and their children.

A 2012 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research argued that the federal minimum wage should have reached $21.72 per hour in 2012, if it had kept up with increasing worker productivity.

With that said, while $15 per hour may not provide the best quality of life for Ulster County residents, it is an enormous step in the right direction.

Recently, it was proposed that the minimum wage for fast-food workers in New York be raised to $15 per hour. This proposal singled out workers in one industry, much like Parete’s proposal, which only increases pay for county workers. While this proposal is as much as can be done at this level, it is concerning that much of the population is being left out.

According to data from the Current Population Survey, about 20.6 million workers are earning “near minimum-wage.” The most common occupations of near-minimum wage workers are cashiers, retail salespeople, cooks, waiters and waitresses and janitors. Parete’s proposal does not cover any of these workers.

Ulster County and most of New York have a higher-than-average cost of living in comparison to the rest of the nation. It is troublesome that minimum wage legislation is not on the table for all workers in New York.

Of course, we cannot ignore the legitimate concerns that come with raising the minimum wage. An increase in minimum wage for state employees will require additional taxes and/or cuts in programs. A minimum wage increase for all workers could put pressure on small businesses to cut jobs or raise prices.

This proposal is not perfect, but we at The Oracle feel that a minimum wage increase for Ulster County employees is necessary in order to ensure a sufficient quality of life for those workers and their families.

Editorials represent the views of the majority of the editorial board. Columns, op-eds and letters, excluding editorials, are solely those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The New Paltz Oracle, its staff members, the campus and university or the Town or Village of New Paltz.