New York bishops call for hike in state's minimum wage

By  Catholic News Service
  • May 4, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York's Catholic bishops have called for state lawmakers to approve a "modest" increase in the state's minimum wage.

New York's current minimum wage is $7.25. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages. A bill sponsored by Sheldon Silver, a Democrat who is speaker of the state Assembly, the legislature's lower chamber, has sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.50. The Republican-controlled state Senate has stated its opposition to a hike in the minimum wage.

"What we can tell you from firsthand experience is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the working poor of our state to make ends meet," the New York bishops said in a May 3 statement. "A full-time minimum-wage earner will bring in $15,080 per year, which is $4,010 below the 2012 federal poverty guidelines for a family of three."

The bishops added, "Our sustained recession and painfully slow recovery have left many of these workers -- often people of color and frequently the newest immigrants to our shores who therefore have the fewest support systems -- on the brink of homelessness, with not enough in their paychecks to pay for the most basic of necessities, like food, medicine or clothing for their children."

The national unemployment rate dipped to 8.1 percent during April, but only 114,000 new jobs were added during the month, about two-thirds of what was expected, according to statistics issued May 4 by the federal government. New York's unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, and it is closer to 10 percent in New York City.

"Workers who previously never would have considered such low-paying jobs are now taking them out of desperation," the bishops said.

"We believe an increase in the minimum wage is a matter of fairness and justice, and we hope it can be addressed soon," they added.

The bishops took note of the disagreement between the two political parties over the issue.

"We are aware that there are many in the legislature who firmly believe such action would have a negative impact on the very people it seeks to help. Perhaps just as many believe the opposite is true," they said.

"By no means do we question the intentions or motivations of our good friends in the legislature who oppose an increase in the minimum wage. But it is our hope and our prayer that the two sides could come together for some sort of action to address the grave problems facing the lowest wage earners in our state."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not declared support or opposition to Silver's bill. But on a May 2 radio show, he said, "I think that, especially at a time like now, a minimum-wage increase would be in order. You can have discussion about how much, over what period of time, etc., but we are more at a philosophical debate right now between the Senate and the Assembly."

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