Regional Minimum Wage Is An Interesting Idea

State legislators need to rethink how they handle the minimum wage.

There is a pretty good chance another minimum wage increase will be discussed by legislators given discussions in the state Assembly during the most recent session and the possibility of Democrats taking control of the state Senate in the November election.

One problem with any discussion of increasing the minimum is the sticker shock to the business community. New York has already approved a three-year increase in the minimum wage to $8 starting Jan. 1, 2014, $8.75 starting Jan. 1, 2015 and $9 starting Jan. 1, 2016. That increase hasn’t assuaged low-wage workers in New York City, who have broached needing a minimum wage of up to $15 an hour to make enough to live. The fast food workers’ discussions are doomed to fail because the one-size-fits-all approach solves a problem in New York City while creating a dozen more in cities like Buffalo and Jamestown.

Low-wage workers in bigger citiies make a compelling case for a higher minimum wage. Because it costs more to live in big cities, even an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as has been proposed by President Barack Obama, wouldn’t help low-wage workers in big cities be self-sufficient. That doesn’t mean, however, that an even larger minimum wage is needed in rural areas like Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, wrote about regional differences in terms of the federal minimum wage recently in the New York Times. According to an excerpt published in theatlantic.com, “In the New York City area, it would take $12.34 to meet the national buying power of $10.10; upstate around Buffalo, you’d need only $9.47.”

It is an interesting idea. If we can agree that low-wage workers in big cities will always struggle to get by on a lower minimum wage, then labor groups should also agree the concerns of businesses in places like Buffalo or even Jamestown, Dunkirk, Olean and Salamanca are also true – minimum wages designed with New York City workers in mind are indeed too much for upstate businesses to bear.

State legislators should keep regional minimum wages in mind if the minimum wage is indeed placed on the table for discussion in upcoming legislative sessions.