Why New York State Should Let Cities and Counties Enact Higher Local Minimum Wages

While New York’s economy is gradually recovering, far too many workers still earn very low wages. Pay for the typical New Yorker has not kept up with inflation, and the majority of new jobs being created in New York and nationally are in low-paying fields. As communities in New York struggle with these serious economic challenges, other states have empowered localities to respond by adopting higher local minimum wages. From California to Maryland, growing numbers of cities and counties are enacting higher local minimum wages to fight poverty locally. They have found that these policies have improved jobs and local economies, without hurting business growth.

After Washington, D.C. and two suburban Maryland counties raised their minimum wage to $11.50 and voters in suburban SeaTac, Washington approved a $15 local wage late last year, leaders in cities like Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego are now proposing city wages as high as $15. Mayor Bill de Blasio is at the forefront of this movement, calling in his first State of the City Address for a higher minimum wage that better matches New York City’s high cost of living.

New Yorkers overwhelmingly support raising wages — and with good reason: the state has the highest level of income inequality in the nation, with millions of low-wage workers now calling New York home. But unlike other states, New York State law does not currently allow localities to enact higher minimum wages. In order to allow cities and counties in New York to supplement the state minimum wage with higher local minimum wages, the legislature should do as other states have done and amend the state’s minimum wage law to clarify that it is a floor, not a ceiling, and is not intended to limit local authority to respond to local conditions.

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