Today, nearly one in four working New Yorkers need food stamps in order to eat — a record high since Mayor Bloomberg took office. Many of them are employed full time in low-wage jobs, especially in retail. An alarming number are adults that must work two or three jobs to support themselves and their households. Often these are folks with professional experience and education, who never imagined they would be in this position.
For too long, city government has been funding the growth of low-wage jobs and not doing nearly enough to spur the creation of higher-wage jobs. Large developers and companies receive lavish tax breaks and public subsidies, but they give little in return. Corporations are getting richer from your tax dollars, yet making this city poorer with low-wage jobs. Such extreme income inequality isn’t a fact of nature — no, the culprit is City Hall, which decided years ago to spend billions courting the business elite and to ignore the needs of working New Yorkers. Morally and economically, something is very wrong here.
A vicious cycle has taken hold: taxpayers are forced to fund more so-called economic development projects that include commercial properties where retailers and other companies lease space. These businesses reap bigger profits as they create low-wage jobs – and, of course, don’t allow most working people to earn an adequate income, so folks turn back to government, and thus to taxpayers for help. No wonder demand for food stamps has exploded, and strained city services are further squeezed.
People are outraged and banding together in order to break this cycle. Many thousands of New Yorkers can now be heard making the same argument: whenever developers and companies benefit from taxpayer assistance, the resulting jobs must enable working people incomes that provide a decent life instead of just enough for basic survival.
Legislators are listening. A majority of City Council members support the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, a bill requiring that taxpayer dollars spent on economic development create living wage jobs. From Los Angeles to Baltimore, many other cities have enacted similar laws, and it’s time for us to catch up. Government has a responsibility to boost living standards and invest your money far more wisely.
Simply put, it is clear that the economic development policies of the city have failed to benefit the vast majority of New Yorkers, therefore this growing citywide movement demands living wage jobs, and opposes the tremendous divide between the rich and the poor, as well as policies that reinforce a system of inequality in which our middle and working class families work more and have less.
Councilwoman Letitia James represents Clinton Hill, Fort Greene and parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant.