By Stephanie A. Miner
It’s nearly back-to-school time across New York. Soon, I’ll join principals and teachers to welcome students and reassure nervous parents. While every year is a bit different, one thing is a constant – all the students sport a new shirt, outfit and new shoes. It seems a simple gesture, but I know that for many of those parents, it is a struggle to provide this.
Syracuse has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States, at nearly 34 percent of all residents. That’s up from 27 percent a decade ago. Not surprisingly, the Syracuse School District has the fourth-highest child poverty rate in the state. More than three-quarters of our students qualify for lunch aid. Tragically, Buffalo and Rochester have similar statistics.
That’s one reason I welcomed the historic news this summer that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Wage Board, under the able leadership of Buffalo’s own Mayor Byron W. Brown, recommended a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers. While many New Yorkers may not see fast food as a career job, the reality is many parents of those children I see each fall are fast-food workers, full or part time.
Here in Syracuse and all across New York State, hardworking New Yorkers desperately need jobs that they can live on. It’s foolish to think that only New York City can afford to pay hardworking people enough to earn a decent living without having to rely on public assistance. A worker in Syracuse should make enough to have a safety net in case of an emergency, to send her kids to school with new clothes, to put something aside for retirement – just like her counterpart in Brooklyn. All workers should feel assured that in Syracuse, or anywhere in New York State, they can earn enough to support their family’s basic needs.
Fast-food workers, who mostly earn the minimum wage of $8.75 per hour, have to depend on more than $700 million per year in public assistance to make ends meet. New York State ranks first in the nation on public assistance spending per fast-food worker. New York taxpayers are footing the bill for low-paid workers in need while the fast-food industry rakes in hundreds of billions of dollars in profit year after year.
That makes no sense for any economy – not New York City and not Syracuse.
The Wage Board recommended $15 per hour across the state based on a solid economic analysis. The governor and labor commissioner should adopt the recommendation and move our economy - upstate and downstate - forward.
Stephanie A. Miner is mayor of Syracuse.