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Let’s Support a Living Wage
West Side Spirit
Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mike Fishman

June 2, 2010
View the Original Article

With the shift in our city’s economy from manufacturing to service jobs, the percentage of low-wage workers has reached record, if not epidemic, levels. Nearly one-third of working New Yorkers are struggling to stretch their paychecks to cover high prices for rent and rising costs for groceries and transportation. In order to stem the tide of what threatens to undermine not just our economic recovery, but the future of our city, we need to invest in increasing the number of good jobs.

Yet, while millions of tax dollars are being invested to redevelop buildings, blocks and entire neighborhoods, these projects do not always create family- supporting jobs. In many cases, our tax dollars go to developers in the form of tax breaks and other incentives. This ends up creating low-wage service jobs that leave working families unable to make ends meet and communities deprived of much of the economic benefit, even though they helped subsidize the project.

New Yorkers can’t afford to see their hard-earned tax dollars go toward developments that leave their families and neighbors unable to pay their bills. Government should be creating jobs that do more than add to the number of working poor people in the city. We need job creation that will put our families and our city’s economy back on track.

Cities from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles are addressing this problem by instituting policies that ensure that when developers are given financial incentives from taxpayers, they give back good jobs to the community. The City Council is considering the Good Jobs Bill based on this model. The bill does not ask developers to pay extra for the workers at their sites; simply that they pay the going wage or “prevailing rate” that most established businesses already pay.

Although naysayers claim that job standards will somehow hamper businesses, guaranteeing good jobs through economic development programs is a smart public policy. Cities are establishing measures that guarantee good wages and health care at subsidized developments so workers can make ends meet, contribute to the local economy and get off public assistance for food, housing and health care.

Here in New York, less ambitious policies to ensure that development creates good jobs have proven not to stymie economic growth. The city’s 421(a) tax incentive program, which requires both affordable housing and good jobs, has not kept developers from taking advantage of this substantive tax rebate. And job-quality requirements, like those in the Good Jobs Bill, will create more than 500 good jobs for office cleaners, apartment building workers and security officers at Coney Island and Willets Point.

For all the good these small-scale, project-specific policies have done in New York, they don’t amount to the full-scale solution for good job creation the city needs. We need a reform of our economic development programs to ensure good job creation is a part of the tax-based incentive programs so that hard-working, tax-paying New Yorkers will see the benefits of these government programs.