Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker who introduced the proposal, rightly noted that the increase would affect 14 percent of the workforce, or 1.2 million people. “Frankly,” he said earlier this month, “it is absurd to expect anyone – let alone a working family, to afford the cost of living today and be able to invest in their future on a salary of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.”
It goes without saying that those 14 percent of New York workers who earn minimum wage are barely scraping by. However, with 17 percent more money in their pockets, those workers will be putting that income right back into the economy, buying necessities like gas and groceries and paying their bills. They are the people least likely to pocket those savings, or invest that money out of state or out of the country.
“They have no choice but to spend that money in their local economy,” says Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, “That’s the stimulus you get.” Translation: Raising the minimum wage means giving extra cash to the people most likely to spend it immediately, in their own communities. It’s a win-win.
Assembly Speaker Silver knows this. So does New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also supports the measure. But being politicians, they also must have their eye on another positive affect of raising the minimum wage – rising poll numbers. “When we’ve done public polls, anywhere from 86 to 67 percent say they support an increase in the minimum wage,” said Celinda Lake of the polling firm Lake Research Partners.
New York Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif must also be aware of the political implications. Instead of opposing the proposal outright, he didn’t take a position. But corporate-interest groups that traditionally support Republicans, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have long opposed minimum wage increases and “cost of living adjustments” that tie wages to inflation.
There’s one more part of this story to keep in mind as this develops: we may not be talking about this issue at all if it weren’t for the brave men and women of the Occupy movement. As the New York Times puts it:
The cleanup of the Lower Manhattan park that has been occupied by protesters for nearly a month was postponed Friday shortly before it was supposed to begin, averting a feared showdown between the police and demonstrators, who had vowed to resist any efforts to evict them from their encampment.
And a key quote:
“I did not come here to look for a fight,” said Steve Sachs of Hightstown, N.J. “I’ve never been in a fight in my life. I’ve never been arrested. But I was ready to be arrested over this.”
This is enormous – the first of hopefully many tangible, direct victories of the 99 Percent Movement. You helped make this possible, responding to our emails, Facebook posts, tweets, and texts, and making your voice heard to Mayor Bloomberg, Brookfield Properties, and all of New York City.
This is also a direct refutation of the opposition’s messaging, that Occupy Wall Street aren’t doing anything, and that they aren’t getting anything done, and that they aren’t capable of changing anything. What will they say now, after they went head to head with arguably one of the most powerful men in the world and won?
Working America is going to continue to stand with the 99 Percenters across the country. To join our movement for the 99 Percent, visit WorkingAmerica.org/NotYourATM.
(The following is a statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on October 13, 2011)
Mayor Bloomberg runs the risk of standing on the wrong side of history tomorrow. It is clear that what is being threatened in Zuccotti Park is nothing but silencing the voices and stomping out the rights of Americans. Participants in Occupy Wall Street are now in their fourth week of declaring that “we are the 99 percent” because our system is desperately, decisively out of whack—the top one percent is pocketing massive profits and dominating our politics while everyone else struggles to make ends meet. It is shocking that Mayor Bloomberg feels like that’s a message that needs to be silenced. The AFL-CIO stands with Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent of Americans just trying to level the massively unequal playing field.