"When it comes to wage increases, the bar is set low"

New living wage law in New York City is a step in the right direction but doesn't go far enough

State governments are beginning to chip away at the economic inequality that plagues the country, at a painfully gradual pace.

In the past year, 13 states and four cities raised their minimum wage, including Seattle’s dramatic adoption of a $15-per-hour minimum. As President Obama’s effort to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 remains woefully stuck in political quagmire, New York City joined others in attempting to improve the quality of life of those at the bottom of economic food chain – to a very limited extent.

It took an executive order from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to raise the current living wage by just over a dollar. Currently at $11.90, the new living wage will be $13.13, for employees who don’t receive benefits.

The new wage will only apply to businesses located in buildings that receive more than $1 million in city subsidies, and excludes nonprofits, developers of affordable housing and businesses making less than $3 million. All told, the new wage should affect about 18,000 workers, many of whom are fast-food or retail employees.

It’s better than nothing, but that’s about it.

De Blasio ran on a platform of economic equity for New Yorkers, aiming to eliminate income inequality, expand paid sick leave and build affordable housing. The limitations of this wage increase offer little encouragement that he will achieve his ambitious goals. The delay in passing the law – which he had originally promised to accomplish by the end of February – makes it even more difficult to believe in de Blasio’s ability to get things done. His intentions are admirable but his methods are far from impressive.

It’s also worrisome that it took an executive action to accomplish this task. The lack of support, and the outright opposition, from business owners is not only surprising but also demoralizing. Although it’s understandable businesses consider profits their priority, that shouldn’t overshadow the plight of their employees.

In a city where 46 percent of the working population is making less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold – a recognized marker for economic struggle – and 17 percent of families with a full-time worker living in poverty, a wage increase that will take five years to impact and then only impact 18,000 people is simply not enough.

For those who are affected, the law is an excellent marker of progress, raising annual income by about $10,000, but if de Blasio is serious about eliminating income inequality, he must pass a more extensive law.

Though de Blasio seems serious about eventually raising the minimum wage in addition to the living wage, “eventually” is not a satisfactory answer when New Yorkers are working full time and still struggling to pay the rent.

The national trend of increased wages is encouraging but its impact is far too limited and sporadic. A national increase in wages is the ultimate but for now unrealistic goal, but a statewide measure would certainly make strides in equalizing the economic status of employees on a large-scale level.

De Blasio hopes to push for a state minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, if Democrats take control of the state Senate in November. The element of suspense generated by the political game is unwelcome and unavoidable, but fortunately it empowers individuals to play a role in raising their wages – so long as they remember to get out and vote.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com