Thoughts on the NY Wage Board Recommendations

by Kevin Nugent/Love and Rage

So looks as though the Facebooks has blown up over the $15/hour for fast food workers in New York State, so I’ll throw my two cents in since I have a Master’s in Public Policy and studied the minimum wage quite a bit.

First off, it isn’t legally binding yet. This is only a recommendation made by the wage board. It would still need to be approved by the Commissioner of Labor, and then survive any legal challenges. Additionally, it would be phased in over a number of years, and battling the erosive force of inflation over time.

Secondly, minimum wage as of now is lagging behind its historical levels. Had it kept up with inflation, it would be around $12/hour. This leads me to my first criticizism of the recommendation: Why just fast food workers? Minimum wage should be raised across the board. Not only would it be unfair to other workers, it will create even greater division amongst the already heavily divided group of low-income earners. They are quick to jump down each others’ throats if they get a perceived advantage or benefit that is “unearned.” This, of course, is what the “1%” wants. If they are fighting each other, they won’t fight management.

Another point; people are generally upset when the poor accepts government assistance like food stamps, welfare payments, Medicaid, etc. The best way to reduce that government expenditure that is coming out of your paycheck if to make sure that people who are working don’t require government assistance. You can either keep peoples’ wages down, or you can reduce social safety net spending; you can not do both.

As for whether the increase will cost jobs or lead to automation, anyone who has done the research and read the studies should know that that is just not true, and it is almost not even worth addressing here. For those interested in actually doing the research, I would recommend the Card-Krueger study as a starting point.

And finally, I’d like to congratulate my fellow activists and fast food workers who stood out in the streets, often in the rain, and put public pressure on politicians to do something for them. It is not often seen anymore, and it is amazing to see it have an impact. If you are the type of person upset by the wage recommendation, you should not seek to tear others down, but raise yourself up. Organize your coworkers to have a march or a strike or a protest. The economy is not helped by keeping the poor poor. You must realize that you have more in common with fast food workers than fast food bosses.


Kevin Nugent is an Oriskany, NY native who is currently teaching English with his wife in South Korea. Before that, Kevin sat on the Board of Directors for Central New York Citizens in Action, Inc. and was an adjunct professor of Government and Politics at Utica College.

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