While politicians debate raising the federal minimum wage, the City of Ithaca is getting a head start. On Monday, it became a certified "living wage" employer. Tamara Lindstrom tells us what that means and why city leaders opted to pay up.
ITHACA, N.Y. -- As a mother of four and program assistant at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, China Wade knows how hard it can be to make ends meet.
"There are some people that come to work every day and don't eat," Wade said.
"I talk to people all the time who work 40 hours a week. They make minimum wage. They can't afford health insurance, but they don't qualify for food stamps," said Svante Myrick, Mayor of Ithaca.
But for Wade and her fellow City of Ithaca employees, achieving financial security just got a little easier. The city was certified as a living wage employer on Monday, after raising its minimum wages from $7.25 to $12.62 an hour.
"Which is a significant change," Wade said. "And it also helped a lot as far as bills and catching up with things. Because it was just hard."
The living wage is determined locally based on costs of housing, transportation, food and other expenses. Advocates from the Tompkins County Workers' Center hope the city's example will spur other businesses to increase pay.
"I don't mind my taxes going for someone to get food stamps or housing assistance, but when I see large corporations walking away with huge profits, I don't like that," said Workers' Center coordinator Pete Meyers.
The increase affects more than 50 employees, at a cost of about $100,000 a year. But Myrick says it's an investment in the community.
"The truth is that when you raise the minimum wage it doesn't kick start inflation, it kick starts spending," Myrick said. "Spending kick starts growth, creates more jobs. And you can in that way create a lot more wealth by helping those who most need help. It's a win, win."
"A lot of people don't have good work ethics because they feel like, 'Why should I work? Because I don't get paid anything,'" Wade said. "But if you have something on the table, it make you want to come to work, it makes you want to put in more effort."
A lesson Wade hopes will be passed down to the children she works with.
The City of Ithaca is the 93rd certified living wage employer in Tompkins County, along with the Town of Ithaca and the County government.