By Mike Sigler
The Tompkins County Legislature might be considering taking up the cause of a living wage, but this time it’s not asking the state to pass a $15 minimum wage – a request it passed in 2015 – but rather pushing for the county to require all employers in the county to pay the living wage as set by the Alternatives Federal Credit Union.
I believe this will cripple our not-for-profits, our healthcare providers who rely on state funding, our childcare providers and our schools, many small businesses, and harm entrepreneurship. I support paying a living wage as a county, but that’s very different than requiring businesses and organizations to do the same. In the county’s case, we are the employer and that’s the wage we’ve decided to make our floor. That’s an organizational decision; we could have put that number anywhere above the minimum wage and your elected officials decided to do that.
This move will affect services many of our most vulnerable count on. My daughter had a school aide for a number of years. School aides don’t make a “living wage.” Some do this service for the health benefits, or as a way to get a foot in the door at the school district to advance, or because they have children in the school and the hours suit them, or they just need a second income in a two-income household. School districts will either have to cut aides who will then lose those benefits, or drastically raise school taxes, which are already your biggest tax bill.
Looking at child care, it’s already one of the top two expenses for parents on average. Many already struggle to pay childcare as they hold down a full-time job. Even with my childcare, which is not five days a week, I pay more than the minimum wage. I can’t imagine how this will increase the number of child care providers, which we already have a shortage of, or improve affordability. Will you now be paying your sitters a living wage too? I already pay over minimum for that. If you say that babysitting is just a job for extra money or for high school students, why is that work less valuable than fast food jobs, which are often brought up by this campaign, and are also largely populated by that same age group.
I’ve been told by educators this move will also incentivize young people to leave high school. Why work at high school academics that you don’t like, when you can work and make a living wage? Other countries like Australia, with higher minimum wages, set age limits. Not earning a high school diploma may limit future earnings, but do many 16-year-olds think that way? It would be a wiser move to copy the federal government and encourage apprenticeship programs so these young people will have the skills to justify $60,000 a year as opposed to just a living wage.
There are two living wages, one with health benefits and one without. When the legislature voted itself an increase to meet the living wage, those on county health insurance were already far above that wage. Health premiums continue to rise in many places by double digits. The living wage will have to keep pace and for small businesses that can’t spread out the losses, this will be unsustainable.
This will be an anchor on entrepreneurship. Many work at startups not to make a living wage, but because they hope the company will be successful and will pay off with time. What price can you put on hope? Apparently it’s right about $15 an hour. It will cut into these startups and into our future.
With this increase we’ll see an even faster move to automate such as touch screens for ordering and even robotics for jobs that you once needed an employee for. Even some news stories are now written by computers. More automation is coming and it’s unlikely moves to ban that development in cities like San Francisco, will work.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also make this observation. There’s a lot of overlap in the “progressives” who are pushing this idea and those who want to see the Cayuga power plant and the salt mine close, and no new natural gas infrastructure built. These energy, mining, and specialized construction jobs all pay well above the suggested living wage, and the jobs that go with the expansion of our industrial base likely will too. Instead of encouraging these industries, many of those involved in this movement for a mandated county living wage look on these industries with derision, and would rather keep much of this growth out of their backyards.
– – –
Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, a Republican, represents the Town of Lansing.