After years of labor union rallies, strikes and protests, New York became the first state in the country to approve a $15 dollar minimum wage, igniting signs of hope for the 54,000 New Yorkers that are currently living on $8.75 per hour.
The wage increase will be a gradual one, phasing into New York fast-food chains in New York City and in six years to the rest of the state. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration approved the increase on Thursday, following the strong opinions of fellow Democratic leaders, like Vice President Joe Biden, that the increase is a necessary change. Speaking to a rally of union members last week, Cuomo cited the need for every man and women needing to make a livable wage. This is the first step in a wave of wage changes across the country. Cuomo and other Democratic lawmakers are hoping that this will be a catalyst to increase the minimum wage across all industries, and that other states will follow suit.
People of color, who have been at the forefront of these labor unions for years, are rejoicing at signs of change and a chance for economic improvement.
People of color have been demanding that their 40-hour work weeks not go in vain. For most families, an $8 minimum wage simply is not enough, particularly in minority communities. Currently, about 40 percent of Latinos and African-Americans are working in entry-level retail and service jobs. According to a study completed by the National Urban League, a minimum wage increase across the nation could have staggering direct and indirect effects on black workers. An increase in the minimum wage to $10 or more could raise the wages of more than 2.4 million African-American female workers.
In states like Mississippi and Washington, D.C., where African-Americans make up a majority of the workers in low-wage roles, over 50 percent of the population would receive directly effects from the wage increase. The long-term effects are impressive, too. In 2010, a mere 43 percent of African-American workers ages 26-61 were part of an employer-based retirement plan, compared to 50 percent of their white counterparts. Raising the wage gives more African-Americans the opportunity to save in the present and for retirement.
The increase will still have some major roadblocks to go through before being fully implemented.
Fast-food restaurant owners are threatening to challenge the move in court, citing competition with mom-and-pop restaurants as a need to keep wages low. Still, with most fast-food chains being multi-billion dollar corporations, lawmakers around the country have made it very clear that change is coming, and it’s coming fast.