A fair wage for New Yorkers

Mayor Michael Bloomberg should sign into law the living wage bill that the City Council overwhelmingly approved this week.

The new bill -a diluted but nonetheless solid version of the original proposal- requires private employers receiving at least $1 million in taxpayer subsidies to pay their workers $10 an hour with health benefits, or $11.50 without benefits.

The benefits of this law sponsored by two council members from The Bronx -a county with high poverty levels and one of the worst hit by the recession- should be obvious. New York State’s minimum wage, $7.50 an hour (or $15,000 annually), grossly pales against New York City’s cost of living. New York is one of the most expensive cities to live in. The status quo condemns many families -especially those dependent on low-paid Latina workers- to living in poverty. In turn, the city suffers the social and fiscal consequences of this poverty.

However, Mayor Bloomberg, whose signature is required to enact the law, has vowed to veto the legislation and take legal actions if the Council overrides his veto. He claims to be worried about the measure’s economic impact on the city.

New York City has proven its resilience: It completely recovered from the fiscal bankruptcy of the 1970s, handled the blows of the dotcom debacle in the 1990s, rebuilt after the 9/11 attacks, and is now getting over the recent real estate crisis. Seriously, does this new wage, which will only apply to a few hundred workers in the short term, really put the local economy at risk?

Mayor Bloomberg, the sky is not falling. Respect a vote that is in line with your agenda of a City of Economic Opportunity, one that should always have struggling New Yorkers at the forefront.

The long campaign to improve wages and develop a workforce able to break the cycle of poverty doesn’t end here. State lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo should support a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to at least $8.50 an hour by 2013. Of course, this won’t end poverty, but it would be an overdue boost.