There's an important idea coming our way. It's picking up steam. Despite what propaganda you might eventually hear, it's not extreme and it's not some plot to bankrupt businesses or raise taxes. It will save public money, bigtime. It will help to clean up communities, and help to hold communities together. That's why it's getting more and more consideration in suburban areas like Long Island. Hold your breath. It's called: Living Wage.
Living Wage legislation takes many different forms, but basically the idea is that employers, particularly those operating under government contracts, should not pay employees less than what it takes to survive economically. That's the moral argument. The more practical argument is that when workers are paid slave wages, taxpayers end up footing the bill in the form of social support, neighborhood degradation as families crowd into cheap and often illegal housing, and health care costs.
Most Living Wage legislation focuses on government employees and the many private businesses that do work under government contracts and subcontracts. More and more laws and proposals also apply to private businesses which receive government benefits, especially tax subsidies.
There are already 60 Living Wage laws on the books across the country. New York City has had one since 1996, and it includes companies with government service contracts (the comptroller determines prevailing wages by industry). Other municipalities include both cities and suburbs, many with characteristics similar to Nassau and Suffolk Counties. For example: Tuscon, Arizona ($8 or $9, depending on benefits); Travis County, Texas ($8.50); Orange County, California (enacted after their bankruptcy, $10); Pasadena, California ($7.25 or $8.50, depending on benefits); Miami-Dade County, Florida ($8.56 or $9.81, depending on benefits) and Kankakee County, Illinois ($11.42). There are serious proposals for Living Wage in 44states across the country, including at least two statewide proposals.
Upstate Buffalo, in such fearsome economic shape that last year a respected academic proposed that the city simply disband, enacted an ordinance in 1999 that will raise minimum pay for larger government contractors to $9.08 by next year. They're still working out some bugs, but the law has been welcomed by a wide spectrum of residents. Several communities in Connecticut and New Jersey have Living Wage laws, and there are several campaigns in New York. At least one Nassau County legislator has told me of their interest in introducing a Living Wage law. That kind of thinking needs to be supported by groups like ACORN, New Party, some religious organizations and others who are publicly committed to Living Wage on Long Island but haven't gotten their campaign started.
So when it comes up, don't fret and don't panic. It's honest pay for honest work, work done in our name and paid for with our tax dollars. Work that keeps families in safe, legal housing and off public rolls. Long Island is ready for Living Wage.