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Ithaca, NY: Tompkins Living Wage Rises to $11.67 Per Hour
The Ithaca Journal
Liz Lawyer

May 6, 2011
View the Original Article

The hourly pay required for a "living wage" in Tompkins County has increased to $11.67, according to a study by Alternatives Federal Credit Union released Friday.

It costs $24,271.50, with health benefits, to live in Tompkins County, according to the bi-annual study. For a full-time worker, that would mean a wage of $11.67, said AFCU Chief Operations Officer Leni Hochman. This compares to the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

That's up 5 percent from 2009, when the living wage was calculated at $11.11.

Hochman said the largest driving factor in the increase was rent. The average cost of a single bedroom apartment, with utilities, is $811, according to NYS Housing and Urban Development. That's an increase of 6.29 percent over a period when inflation rose 1.62 percent, Hochman said.

Health care and transportation were two other expenses that had big increases, while food and communication stayed flat through 2010.

AFCU Chief Executive Officer Tristram Coffin said the living wage study started among AFCU's employees in 1994.

"While the mission of the organization was in serving and empowering low income people in the community, its full-time employees were unable to live independently on their entry-level take-home pay," Coffin said. "In response, the Credit Union undertook a systematic study of what it costs to live in Tompkins County."

Hochman said the living wage increased the smallest amount between studies than in previous years, but the increase is also the largest divergence from the inflation rate that they have seen.

An Ithaca College student, Laura St. John, and a GreenStar employee, Mercedes Redmon, shared their experiences working for minimum wage and said working for employers that honor the living wage makes a big difference in workers' standard of living.

An Ithaca College contractor, Sodexo, a dining services company, recently agreed to adhere to the local living wage in paying its employees. Linda Holzbaur, a community organizer with the Tompkins County Workers' Center, said she credits the victory to Ithaca College for supporting the living wage by paying its employees a living wage plus 50 cents.