You Can’t Live on Minimum Wage
From Hoy
June 22, 2004

By JosÈ L. Llanes

The first thing Yuselis Meja, a worker at Burger King in upper Manhattan, would do if the state Senate approved an increase in the minimum wage, would be to become independent.

"Right now I live with my aunt. With the $5.80 I make per hour, I can’t support myself on my own,” said the girl.
When she works 40 hours per week, she earns between $198 and $200. With this income she is able to pay her telephone bill, transportation and food costs.

"This week I am saving a little more to help my mother and my 15 year old brother in the Dominican Republic. I want to study child psychology, because you can’t really live on minimum wage."

Seated to her right was Mayra RodrÌguez, one of her work colleagues, who earns a little more. She makes $6.00 per hour, although it doesn’t make much of a difference.

"We work to pay taxes," said the girl, who despite everything, had words of praise for her employer. "They fight a lot to help me. But it doesn’t reach anyone. They raised the price on transportation, milk, everything. If my husband weren’t helping me, I would not be able to support myself."

The New York senate concluded its 2004 legislative sessions yesterday without coming to an agreement on the budget, the public education system, Medicaid, or the minimum wage.

This past March, for the fifth year in a row, the Assembly approved the first draft of a law that would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.10 per hour. But the proposition was blocked by republican leader Joseph Bruno and Governor George Pataki.

The lobbying of opponents of the raise has played a crucial role. "The increase of the minimum wage would have an impact not only on nominal costs, but on the cost of unemployment insurance and social security," declared Julie C. Surez of the New York Farm Bureau (NYFB), who advocates for farm producers. "There are 38 states that have the federal minimum and those include our competitors in the agriculture industry."

Surez said that the NYFB supports programs on health, finance and housing for workers.

"The responsibility to help those who earn minimum wage in New York should not be placed solely on the small business owners, but on the entire society," said Mark P. Alesse, director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). "We believe that the best alternative is the Earned Income Credit (EIC), the program for financial help.”

"On a regular basis we would be in agreement with Wages In Training. For nine months, the worker would earn the current minimum and if he is a valuable employee, then the salary will be raised to $6.00 or $6,50 per hour."

Alesse said that if this is done automatically, "the people will pay the price." In terms of negotiations with Albany: "we know that the republicans in the Senate want an increase, we don’t know how or by how much. The debate remains in Albany."

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Translated from Spanish by Charlotte Triggs.

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