Gov. Cuomo moving ahead with minimum wage increase amid COVID recession

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The Cuomo administration is moving ahead with a planned increase in the minimum wage in the suburbs and upstate despite the pandemic-fuel recession that has ravaged small businesses in New York.

The minimum wage in New York City for companies with ten or fewer workers is already at the maximum $15 an hour under state law.

But the action by the Labor Department boosts the minimum wage from $13 to $14 in Long Island and Westchester County and from $11.80 per hour to $12.50 upstate — effective Dec. 31.

Under the phased-in schedule under a 2016 state law, the minimum wage would jump from $14 to $15 in the suburbs at the end of 2021.

Business advocates and Republican lawmakers called for a pause given how the COVID-outbreak has hammered businesses, forcing some retailers and eateries to close.

“The wage increases upstate and on Long Island are another kick in the teeth to small service-sector employers—restaurants, personal-care businesses, retail outlets—that have been especially hard hit by the restrictions imposed under Governor Cuomo’s New York State on PAUSE orders,” said E.J. McMahon, a fiscal analyst with the Empire Center for Public Policy.

“Even supporters (in normal times) of minimum wage hikes acknowledge they have a ripple effect up the wage scale, so their impact (and cost) isn’t limited to the lowest-page employees,” he said.

The state Labor Department defended the increase in a press statement on Wednesday, claiming Long Island and Westchester labor markets are “leading New York’s economic recovery from the downturn caused by the global pandemic.”

The agency report also said low-wage workers — disproportionately impacted by the pandemic’s economic toll — could use the bump in hourly wages.

The push to raise the minimum wage, which advocates call a living wage, is a burning issue across the country. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question in November to raise the state minimum wage there.

Raising the minimum wage is hotly debated across the country. Florida voters in November overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to eventually hike the basic hourly wage there.

“Even as we continue to battle the pandemic, we are working to build back in an equitable and just way,” Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said.

“Before this crisis, we achieved record low unemployment rates while increasing the minimum wage — improving the lives of thousands of New Yorkers — and we will rebuild our economy while continuing to lead the nation in the fight for economic justice. This investment in our workers once again proves that in New York we believe a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.”

The Long Island/Westchester county regional unemployment rate has fallen from its April peak of 15.9 percent to 7.1 percent in October, while the remainder of upstate has fallen from its 15.4 percent to 6.8 percent during the same time period, the report said..

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