Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.

ALBANY - Single mother Dawn Crowley says she's living on the edge after fleeing Louisiana from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 for a fresh start. Now she said she's making $130 to $230 a week in a Wendy's restaurant in Rochester and pays $500 a month in rent while her son, Dior, is cared for by Crowley's sister.

"I'm just trying to survive in this economy," Crowley said. She was one of about 50 fast-food restaurant workers who testified to the state wage board on Monday.

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These workers in a multibillion dollar industry are trying to push the wage board created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to recommend an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The state minimum wage for most fields is now $8.75 and is scheduled to rise to $9 an hour on Dec. 31. But advocates for the working poor have pushed for a new increase, saying they are trapped by a national economic recovery that is leaving them behind.

The hearing showed that despite the high emotions of supporters at a rally before the session and their upraised fists of support during the hearing, the issue is complex. Wage board chairman Byron Brown, the Buffalo mayor, said some research shows fast-food workers have less buying power than in 1979.

The New York State Business Council, however, testified that studies show that when the starting mark is 1962, the wages of fast-food workers actually exceeded the cost of living.

The business lobby noted most studies show a decline in employment when the minimum wage rises, but there is no study on a jump to $15 an hour. Other studies show an expanded tax credit could better serve the working poor because many minimum wage workers take the jobs by choice often because they want part-time jobs or need to juggle jobs with care of their children.

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Ken Jacobs, a labor researcher from the University of California at Berkeley, said studies show increases in minimum wage can result in a slight loss of jobs. But Jacobs said the cost can be offset by franchise owners with a slight price increase and by reaping the benefit of workers being able to afford to become more frequent customers, according to the business group.

Jacobs also noted that employers would likely see an increase in productivity and the quality of work from a higher wage, while New York State could see savings in social services spending.

The wage board is scheduled to make its recommendation in July.