Minimum Wage Raise: Better, but Not Enough

María Hernández, who works at a laundromat, will benefit from the increase in minimum wage. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

María Hernández, who works at a laundromat, will benefit from the increase in minimum wage. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

The new year brings good news for many New York workers as the state’s minimum wage increases from $8 to $8.75 per hour. While the raise has given hope to many, it is still not considered enough to afford living in the Big Apple.

“A raise always helps, but it is still too little,” said Michael Antwi, 32, who works at an Upper Manhattan clothing store and is paid the minimum wage. Even though he does not have children, Antwi must work 11-hour days six days a week to cover his expenses and send some money to his family in Ghana each month.

The increase in minimum wage that went into effect on Dec. 31, 2014 was the first stage of a two-part raise to be completed in December of 2016. Then, the hourly wage will be $9.

“The 75 extra cents this year will help me with transportation expenses,” said Antwi, who shares an apartment with three other people in the Bronx. “I still need to buy food, and paying rent is hard. I never have a penny to save,” said Antwi.

Pablo Miranda, a Salvadoran pizza delivery man who moved to New York seven months ago, is in a similar situation. “I get paid $8 an hour and, although sometimes customers give me a tip, it is not enough. That’s why I work six days a week,” said Miranda. He told El Diario/La Prensa that he shares a room with someone else and they pay a total of $660 per month.

For María Hernández, born in Mexico and who is also paid the minimum wage at her job in a laundromat, the secret to surviving on that amount of money is, precisely: “Reduce yourself to the minimum.” The 63-year-old grandmother of six said that “sometimes people buy more than they can, regardless of how much they are making. One has to adapt to what one can have.”

Hernández lives in a room in Upper Manhattan for which she pays $600 a month. She works six days per week. “A raise is always good. Though it is not enough to live comfortably, it will make a difference.” Hernández added: “There is never money to spare, especially in New York.”

According to the Census, women represent two-thirds of all low-wage workers. In New York, women usually make 16.4 percent less than men.

A report from the Comptroller’s office published last June revealed that, of the more than 875,000 New York City residents who endure these conditions, 390,000 are Hispanic, the largest ethnic group. They are followed by African Americans (186,000), whites (165,000), and Asians (136,000).

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