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Yearly Wage Hike Yields Minimal Results

Editor's Corner

Even with a higher minimum wages, there’s still plenty of help wanted around the region. AP photo

Hourly pay will once again come under scrutiny across New York state. Beginning Dec. 31, the minimum wage will be rising from $13.20 to $14.20 — a 7.6% increase.

Not only will the higher rate take a toll on numerous small and larger businesses, but some non-profits will be seeing a pinch as well. Area consumers, who are quick to blame the federal government for inflation, also are impacted as rising labor expenses also drive up prices for goods and services.

Just last month, the increasing cost of doing business came to the forefront in the public sector as well. During a Fredonia Central Schools meeting, the district’s Salaried Support Staff Association of the New York State United Teachers, which includes custodians and cleaners as well as teacher aides and clerical staff, noted they are falling behind when it comes to pay.

“These are the employees who worked through COVID — holding down the fort, so to speak — while uncertainty and fears ruled the day. In short, without us, this building doesn’t function efficiently or safely,” said Melanie Mann, one of the union members. “These are hardworking employees who love their job, give all they can to the district.”

Ironically, those who work for institutions funded through taxpayer dollars in Chautauqua County are one of the chief reasons the state minimum wage keeps rising. According to seethroughny.net, there are 9,225 individuals who work for the county, its schools, colleges, towns, villages and cities. Total pay for these employees tied to the 61 entities tops $416 million.

That averages about $45,176 per public-sector worker in our area annually — or $21.72 per hour. Keep in mind these payroll costs do not include health and retirement benefits, which are an additional 33% to 42% of a public employee’s pay. Nevertheless, in a county where the median household income is among the lowest in the state at $48,315, those taxpayer-funded positions are an important barometer.

In the meantime, New York’s Labor Department estimates 200,000 in upstate counties will benefit from the Dec. 31 $1 an hour raise in the minimum wage — 44% of which are full time workers and of those, nearly 25% are supporting children below age 18. In addition, the department says the increase will help to close the gender pay gap, providing an estimated 110,000 women with greater financial stability.

There is a down side, however, to the edict. Some locations — due to that increase — look to cut back on employees or hours. That can have a detrimental impact as well.

On Thursday, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a report that notes poverty rates in New York state have surpassed the national average every year since 2014. In 2021, the most recent year for which data are available, almost 2.7 million New Yorkers lived in poverty — or 13.9%, compared to 12.8% of all Americans.

DiNapoli’s report, unfortunately, sums up the obvious. Annual minimum wage hikes in this state are not the answer to those economically hurting the most.

Over the state border, according to the U.S. Census, the poverty rate in Pennsylvania is 12.1%. There, the minimum wage has not changed since 2008. It remains at $7.25 per hour — which also is the federal threshold.

Despite watching what New York has done — raising the rate from $9.70 an hour in 2017 to the current $13.20, those who represent Warren County are comfortable with how the market, not the government, is setting the tone. During an October meeting with U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, he said momentum is lacking in Washington at the present time to increase the federal minimum wage level. In addition, local leaders also seem content.

“There is work in Warren at competitive rates,” said John Papalia, Warren County Chamber of Business & Industry director of operations, earlier this fall. “Wages have increased over the last couple of years to stay competitive with the market and attract workers to businesses.”

By the way, the U.S. Census reports median household income in Warren County as $55,796. Compared to Chautauqua County’s lower number, that is an indication that minimum wage hikes in New York state are not moving the needle.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.

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