The Commons in Ithaca, NY
Nestled in the heart of the Ithaca Commons among other restaurants and small businesses is Finger Lakes Running Co. Owned by Ian Golden, the store is one of the many small businesses that may be affected if the Tompkins County Legislature votes to raise the minimum wage from $8.75 to $14.34, which is the calculated living wage for Tompkins County.
Though the Legislature has yet to pass the proposed wage of $14.34, many local business owners are already speculating what might happen to their businesses and the Tompkins County economy should it pass.
“I get the dynamics of it,” Golden said. “They make more and there’s more to spend. But I also know that in 2014, my business lost $30,000. We didn’t make any money, we lost money. So I don’t know what that [minimum wage increase] would mean for the bottom line.”
Pete Meyers, coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers Center Coordinator, is all too familiar with local workers struggling to make ends meet on the current minimum wage.
Meyers and the Workers Center support raising the minimum wage to the calculated living wage.
“The minimum wage right now, people can’t live on that,” Meyers said. “You might be able to as a teenager when you’re living at home, but workers that are providing for themselves and their families cannot possibly live on that.”
Meyers said the Workers Center set up a hotline for those workers making around minimum wage to contact them whenever they had any sort of grievances at work.
“We needed to get workers in the door. Workers who agree with the idea of a living wage,” Myers said. “It could be a pipe dream if you’re working in a fast food restaurant or a similar place, so we started a workers’ rights hotline right away as a way to get people in the door.”
Amanda Fogus, a recent college graduate and sales associate at Trader K’s, echoed Myers sentiments on raising the minimum wage.
“When I hear living wage, I think about how I am a full time worker, I work 40 hours a week here and don’t make much more than minimum wage,” Fogus said. “I just graduated and my student loans kick in next month, so that is really what I am thinking about.”
With the minimum wage set at $8.75, workers bring in around $17,500 annually. For a family it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain living needs.
“My biggest thing is that I am just one person, and I am pretty comfortable on my wage and I have some savings, but I know next month I have to start saving more because I do not want to blow my savings on my loans,” Fogus said. “But then I also think about people who have families or children who may not even be employed 40 hours a week. And plus, rent is so high here.”
With the prospect of employees making more money also comes the idea of that extra money being put back into Ithaca’s local economy. Colleen Kearns, an employee at Alphabet Soup on The Commons, mentioned that Ithaca specifically could benefit from a wage increase.
“I think that Ithaca has a fairly strong ‘shop local’ culture, and that people are spending almost two-thirds of what they’re making on rent,” Kearns said. “So having extra pocket change would make a big difference.”
Yet, for small business owners such as Golden, raising the minimum wage to $14.34 could put Finger Lakes Running Co. in jeopardy of going out of business.
“It is something I believe in,” Golden said. “I’d like to pay my employees more. I’d like to be saving more for my own kids. At present, I really don’t have any savings. It’s a tough equation. It’s something I believe in, but the bottom line is I don’t make money, and I don’t know how I could make it work.”