Gas, housing and groceries: The staples of living and working are increasing for workers as inflation continues apace in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers, too, are seeing higher prices affect their bottom lines: Energy and fuel costs are skyrocketing as are the cost of materials and labor.
It's against that backdrop that New York labor officials are proposing a $1 increase in the minimum wage for counties north of Westchester. If given final approval, the wage would reach $14.20 by the end of the year.
"The typical worker who will be helped is a woman in her late 20s or 30s working close to full time hours as a home health aide or a restaurant worker or a retail worker," said Paul Sonn, of the National Employment Law Project.
But this wage increase could spur further action in the Legislature to approve the first minimum wage increase since 2016 in New York.
"While upstate's living costs are a little lower, it was way too low," Sonn said. "The upstate wage is never going to catch up until the Legislature acts."
New York's minimum wage is based on a deal reached between then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Republicans who controlled the state Senate six years ago. At the time, Republicans argued the cost of living in upstate New York was far different than in New York City and the surrounding area.
As a result, the push for a $15 minimum wage was phased in for the metropolitan area. It's yet to reach that target upstate.
But progressive advocates have argued the wage across the board is not keeping pace in New York.
"The upstate increase really highlights how the rest of the state is falling behind as prices skyrocket," Sonn said.
Ashley Ranslow of the National Federation of Independent Business points to the same inflation also hurting businesses who have been battered by the pandemic.
"There's rampant inflation, there's supply chain challenges, there are already rising labor costs, energy costs are going up," she said. "Fuel costs are still stubbornly high. This is one more cost on top of all of these things."
And smaller employers are already struggling from the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and will have trouble absorbing even more costs.
"It's not like big businesses where they have a ton of buying power, where they can find a way to conserve costs elsewhere," Ranslow said. "Small businesses don't have that, they don't have that flexibility."
And in a tight labor market, employers have already tried a variety of ways to hire workers.
"Small businesses are already increasing pay, they're already doing other things to attract workers," she said. "So just a flat increase across the board is not going to do anything."