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How Healthy Is New York City's Economy? - A Chance to Fix Inequities
New York Times
Amy Traub

August 31, 2010
View the Original Article

New York has long been a place of tremendous inequality. An estimated 660,000 millionaires share the city with a million and half New Yorkers living below the poverty line and a shrinking middle class.

Even as Wall Street bounces back, many of the city’s fastest growing occupations are those that pay wages at or below the poverty level, like retail employees and home health aides. Allowing present trends to continue will produce an economic recovery skewed toward the very wealthy -- exacerbating polarization and leaving New York even less affordable for all but the most affluent.

Luckily, policies already being considered by the City Council have the potential to improve the lot of low-wage New Yorkers. By swiftly enacting policies to strengthen living and prevailing wages and to give all working New Yorkers the right to earn paid sick time, the city can open the door to an economic recovery that benefits everyone.

One of the easiest and most common-sense steps New York can take is to use the economic development funds it already spends to create good jobs rather than perpetuating poverty. The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act would ensure that city subsidies are used to create jobs that pay at least a living wage of $10 an hour plus health coverage.

A complementary measure, the Good Jobs Bill, would guarantee that buildings that receive public subsidies or lease space to city agencies pay the city’s prevailing wage to security guards, office cleaners and other building service workers -- mandating that companies benefiting from public dollars don’t undercut workers in the private sector.

While these laws would directly affect only a small number of workers, they raise the bar for New York’s low-wage employees, using the city’s muscle to increase job standards. In other cities, similar requirements have not slowed economic growth or halted economic development efforts.

Two out of three low-wage New Yorkers do not have a single paid sick day; they stand to lose much-needed pay, and even their jobs, any time they or their children become ill. The New York City Paid Sick Time Act would enable workers in the city to earn up to nine paid sick days (five for employees of small businesses) to care for themselves and their families, making employment less precarious. A similar policy has been successful in San Francisco, where studies show that the policy does not harm employment.

It’s terrific that New York City’s economy is once again growing; now it's time to ensure that the benefits are spread widely.