About 1 million New Yorkers would get a raise if the Assembly bill to increase the state’s minimum wage became law, and the vast majority are adults or work full-time, according to a study released Feb. 17 by a liberal think tank.

The Fiscal Policy Institute study breaks down the share of New York workers who currently make less than $8.50 an hour, the proposed new minimum wage. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver introduced a bill in late January that would raise the current minimum wage of $7.25 beginning in 2013 and adjust it for inflation over time.

The study found that 880,100 New York employees earn less than $8.50 an hour. About 352,000 of those are in New York City, about 40 percent of the state total. In the city, 92 percent of those workers are at least 20 years of age.

Were employers to hire at the same rates and adjust pay scales to reflect the new minimum wage, an additional 120,000 workers would benefit, the study found.

Critics of the bill said employers would do no such thing. “It sounds good politically, but it’s just not the best way to accomplish the goal,” said Russell Sykes, a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Empire Center for New York State Policy, an offshoot of the Manhattan Institute.

Sykes said raising the minimum wage is an imprecise strategy that would eliminate jobs. He said the earned income tax credit is a more effective mechanism for targeting poverty, as it addresses factors in a case-by-case basis, applying yearly wage increases by refunding money to the families who truly earn the least. Sykes said businesses facing an unforgiving economy will not shell out an extra $2,600 a year per full-time employee that the new minimum would demand, and the result would be higher unemployment.

“You have people who won’t get hired when the cost of labor goes up,” Sykes said. “We’re already in a high unemployment stage.”

The Fiscal Policy Institute found that two-thirds of employees in the city earning less than $8.50 an hour work at least 30 hours a week. The institute argues that increasing wages would boost purchasing power among low-wage earners and would “pump much-needed spending into local businesses and communities and will create roughly 7,500 new jobs” statewide.

Ali Elkin writes for Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.


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