Written by Rosemary Rivera, organizing director at Citizen Action of New York and a resident of Rochester, NY.
My daughter works at Wendy’s. She’s been working there with dedication and loyalty for 8 years. After all that time, she still only makes the minimum wage.
I know first hand that New York’s shamefully low minimum wage doesn’t just impact minimum wage workers. It impacts our whole community. It keeps all of us down. And it’s killing Upstate’s economy.
Right now, more than 55% of children in Rochester, New York live in poverty. A community doesn’t become that poor by accident. Giant corporations, Wall Street bankers and their lobbyists have created an economy that’s completely out of balance. Their focus on making more profits has left all of us with barely anything.
Because she only makes the minimum wage, my daughter and her son, my grandson, live with me in my house. I don’t know how they’d make it if they moved out. While this giant corporation rakes in millions of dollars in profit off the hard work my daughter and others like her put in every day, I’m left to make ends meet so that my grandson can have a decent life.
There’s a simple reality behind this problem. If you pay workers poverty wages, they’re going to be forced to live in poverty. And make no mistake — $9 an hour — the current minimum wage — is a poverty wage.
With so many families struggling just to get by, how can we possibly expect to have a thriving economy? The only way is to boost wages so that people can buy and spend more, supporting local businesses and having enough to meet the basics. A higher minimum wage is crucial if we’re ever going to turn around poverty in Rochester.
Right now, New York State is on the verge of passing two important plans to put our economy back on track. First is increasing the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour. Second is a paid family leave insurance program that gives all workers the chance to take 12 weeks of job-protected leave at two-thirds of their salary to take care of a new baby or sick family member. These plans will be phased in over a number of years, so businesses have plenty of time to plan.
But big business interests are fighting tooth and nail to slow our progress. They claim that these plans will hurt small businesses. They say that they will kill jobs. They say that they are too fast.
In reality, our state’s low minimum wage is causing Upstate small businesses to fail because low wages are a key force behind the massive level of poverty in our community.
Upstate needs this economic boost. Studies show that by 2021, the living wage in most Upstate communities for a single adult will exceed $15 an hour. In Rochester, it will be $16.12.
It’s up to our local legislators — Senators Robach and Funke and Assemblymembers Morelle, Gantt and Bronson — to win this for our communities. They need to stand up for voters, not the big business interests that put profits before people. They need to fight for $15 with us.