(The Center Square) – The New York State Department of Labor announced recently it would proceed with a scheduled increase in the minimum wage that was scheduled to take effect before the COVID-19 pandemic started. It’s a move that business leaders and Republicans question as companies still are recovering from the public health crisis.
The increases take effect on Dec. 31. On that day, the minimum wage on Long Island and Westchester County will jump a dollar to $14 an hour. In other parts of the state, the rate will go to $12.50, up from $11.80.
New York City has a $15 an hour minimum wage.
The pandemic forced several businesses to either close or limit operations over the past nine months, and some business remain under the threat of new restrictions or a full-blown shutdown. However, while businesses have been affected by the pandemic, workers have as well, Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement on Wednesday.
“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,” Reardon said. “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 statewide unemployment rate reached 3.6 percent, an all-time low, as recently as November 2019, according to the state labor department. Last month, the rate was 8.1 percent, but down from 16 percent in July.
Reardon said the unemployment rate drops show that the recovery is proceeding well and that the mandated wage increases will not hinder that.
Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt expressed skepticism about that, saying in a statement that the decision to allow the adjustments was “short-sighted.”
The senator from Lockport said small businesses have faced challenges to stay open and have had to spend money to implement new safety measures to meet COVID-19 emergency regulations. They’ve endured that, he said, without state help.
“The last thing they need is additional costs at this time, and the last thing they want is to pink slip dedicated employees for Christmas,” Ortt said. “But instead of pausing this increase as the Senate Republican Conference urged until the end of the pandemic, the state will now force these small employers to make difficult choices.”https://3c11864f22ce2c62f093822a7e3b8544.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
On Tuesday, the National Federation of Independent Business released results from a national survey that found 26 percent of small business owners say they can keep operating for six months or less under ongoing conditions.
Two-thirds of responding businesses employ nine or fewer workers.
NFIB New York Director Greg Biryla said anyone who believes the state’s economy can endure the wage hike is not thinking logically.
“To prevent this catastrophe and ensure a fast and full recovery, New York State needs to be doing everything in its power to improve the state’s economic environment for small businesses, the jobs they create, and the communities they support – starting with an indefinite postponement of this scheduled wage hike,” he said.