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Minimum wage hike prompts local outcry

For the past two weeks, more than 50 companies that use Advantage Payroll Services in Freeport have been calling to "show their displeasure" about the federal minimum wage, which rises 70 cents to $7.25 an hour Friday.

"Small businesses that are paying minimum wage are hurting right now," said Robert Basso, Advantage's president and founder. "If the owners don't raise prices, [the higher wage] comes out of their pockets."

The increase in the federal minimum wage has once again set off a debate over its merits and drawbacks. One thing's for sure: The impact will be felt less in New York than in many others states.

That's because the state's minimum has stood at $7.15 an hour since Jan. 1, 2007, nearly two years before the federal rate crossed the $7 mark. And by state law, New York's rate also will go up Friday to match the federal minimum.

The increase heartens local worker advocates.

"Raising the minimum wage is one of the easiest things we can do to give working people a leg up," said Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, a Brooklyn-based political party that said a raise in New York's minimum wage a few years ago was its first major statewide initiative. "It's an instant economic stimulus for the people who need it the most."

But the timing is awful, detractors said.

Mike Elmendorf, New York State director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said employers are already grappling with a business slowdown and higher costs for energy, health insurance and taxes.

"A little bit here and a little bit there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money," he said. "At some point it's got to give."

The latest federal increase is the last of a three-year, $2.10 total that former President George W. Bush signed into law in 2007. Before that, the federal minimum had not risen in 10 years.

Partly because of that, groups lobbied the State Legislature to lift the minimum wage. New York passed a three-pronged increase that raised the minimum wage a total of $2 between 2005 and 2007, to the current $7.15.

With the new $7.25-an-hour minimum, a family with a full-time minimum-wage earner will see its monthly income increase about $120, said the U.S. Labor Department, which enforces minimum wage laws.

The number of Long Island minimum-wage workers is hard to determine.

Statewide, 123,000 are affected, or about 1.4 percent of employed workers, according to data from the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute.

Basso, whose payroll company has thousands of small- business clients, acknowledged that while it's hard for anyone to live on a minimum wage, the cost of an increase is also important to consider.

"From an employer standpoint," he said, "it is very challenging."

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