Minimum wage increases, and many seem to be unimpressed

The minimum wage rate is set to increase all across New York state on Dec. 31. Photo by: Jay Rodriguez

OSWEGO, NY — In a matter of weeks, the minimum wage in New York will be raised to $14.20. But, the general public doesn’t seem to be too excited about it.

“It’s fully anticipated,” SUNY Oswego professor of economics Elizabeth Schmitt said regarding the wage raise. Schmitt then went on to further explain the reasoning behind her stance. “That means that even small businesses actually know what’s coming and have to decide in terms of labor and what they can afford and hours they’re opening, and how to structure that.”

Since small businesses usually go hand in hand with the provision of minimum wage jobs, Schmitt’s comments seem to also explain why New Yorkers lack enthusiasm when it comes to the raise.

The slight increase in payment is part of a plan set in motion by the New York State senate to have the rates raised until they are up to $15 an hour. While this is already the case in certain areas, namely New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, the end goal is for the entire state to reach that monetary ceiling in the near future. 

Potsdam resident Zach Corbett shares the sentiment of many that do not feel the winds of change blowing in any direction.

“It’s nice, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not gonna be much help,” he said. A veteran minimum wage employee in his own right, Corbett has gone through seven establishments in the last three years, first landing a job at Sonic at the young age of 18. 

Now at 21 years old, he’s more than well versed in the art of scraping together enough cash to get by. As someone who’s already earning $15 an hour however, his indifference toward the upcoming event is completely understandable.

“With the price of everything going up, the hourly rate just seems compromised. What good is an extra dollar, if gas is just gonna go up by another five in the next few months? Sounds morbid, I know, but hey, that’s how things are right now,” said Corbett. 

Gas is only one piece of the puzzle. People need food, people need clothing, and people need a roof over their heads.

“Someone earning $15 an hour by themselves can probably not afford to have a basic budget and rent a one bedroom apartment in most areas of the country. Even in Oswego, that would be really, really tough given the prices,” said Schmitt.

That’s really saying something, considering that the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Oswego is $695. That price is a far cry from how expensive it is to live in a major city like New York. The chances of affording any apartment there, no matter how dingy or run down it might be, aren’t even slim to none. It’s just none.

“My living situation sounds complicated but not really. I live in a house that doubles as an apartment, if that makes sense. The house is split between me, my girlfriend, and these two other people. Me and my girlfriend pay rent for the bottom floor, and the other people pay for the floor over us. I got lucky, honestly. I definitely wouldn’t be able to afford it by myself. I’d have roommates for sure,” said Corbett.

Nowadays, having a roommate or roommates to share the burden of paying rent isn’t uncommon in the slightest. Especially, when it comes to people in Corbett’s age range. For a lot of them, those roommates turn out to be their parents. The results of a nationwide study by data analytics and consumer credit reporting company Experian show that 30% of college students that end up moving back in with mom and dad after they graduate.

“Compared to some of the other apartments I’ve seen in the town, where I live is good. It could be better though,” said Corbett.

The number of people that actually work minimum wage jobs isn’t as large as one might think. In New York alone, only 1.8% of employees earn a minimum wage salary. Everyone else earns more.

“A relatively small percentage of the labor force work for minimum wage. When you look at the entire giant U.S. labor force, who are 100 million people, it’s a pretty small percentage that are working minimum wage,” said Schmitt.

Basically, no one’s going to turn down extra money, but at the same time, it seems like for workers like Corbett and others, not much of a difference is really being made.