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Critics Say Study is a Sham
The Gotham Gazette
Courtney Gross

October 27, 2010
View the Original Article

Advocates and council members gathered on the steps of City Hall today to slam a city commissioned study on living wages, calling it “smoke and mirrors.”

The $1 million study, which is being conducted by Boston-based Charles River Associates, will examine the sustainability of a living wage policy in the five boroughs. A bill to require living wages at city-subsidized developments is currently languishing at the council.

At issue is one economist on the study team — David Neumark of the University of California. Supporters of living wages say Neumark is inherently biased, having authored several studies critical of living and minimum wage policies.

“Hiring David Neumark to advise the city on wage policies is like hiring a global warming skeptic to evaluate the city’s greenhouse gas strategy,” said Paul K. Sonn of the National Employment Law Project.

The city Economic Development Corp., which commissioned the study after advocates started to call for living wages last year, argues Neumark is in the top 5 percent of economists. City officials point to studies where Neumark found living wages reduced poverty — albeit those studies show his “support” for the policy overall is tepid at best.

The city also says a diverse stakeholder group will review the study’s findings, which should be completed this spring.

All of those arguments aren’t silencing critics.

The crowd of supporters hissed on the steps of City Hall when the study was mentioned. They then burst into a chorus of: “One, two, three, four, no one should be working poor. Five, six, seven, eight, New York needs a living wage.”

Council members charged the administration with using the study as a delay tactic.

“This is what happened on paid sick leave,” said Councilmember Brad Lander. “We waited a better part of the year only to squash the bill.”

Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not taken a position on the legislation, although it has a majority of support at the City Council. When asked this afternoon whether she would consider the study’s findings, she said she would consider any information she had when making a decision.

Advocates said they suggested other economists for the city to consider only to be denied.