State Starts Hearings on Raising Minimum Wage

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Supporters of a bill to raise New York’s minimum wage made their case to state lawmakers on Monday in Harlem, at a hearing called by Assemblyman Keith Wright.

Wright and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both Manhattan democrats, are sponsoring legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. The current minimum wage in New York is $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum. Under the bill, the wage would also increase each year according to inflation.

James Parrott, deputy director and chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, estimates that a minimum wage increase would directly affect 880,000 New Yorkers. He said another 200,000 workers who already earn a wage just above the minimum would also see a wage increase as a "spillover effect."

Critics of the bill have warned that employers won’t be able to afford higher wages, which could affect overall employment. The Republican majority in the senate has previously called the bill a "job killer."

But William Parrish, who owns the construction management firm Noble Strategy, testified Monday that he already pays his 20 employees a wage higher than the minimum, including high school interns, gladly.

"We’re out to maximize profits, but we’re also out to increase the condition of the people who work in the communities that we serve and the communities that we participate in," he explained.

State lawmakers will continue to hold hearings on the issue, including one Tuesday in Syracuse and another on May 11 in Buffalo. Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the Assembly bill. Governor Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, said he supports an increase to the minimum wage "in concept," but has not taken a specific position on the legislation.

"The question is how much, at what time, and then what is politically feasible — what could you actually get passed," he said.

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Connecticut are also pushing for an increase to the minimum wage in those states. Connecticut already has a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum, at $8.25. The minimum wage in New Jersey is $7.25.