The Public Cost of Low Wages in New York

Ken Jacobs, Ian Eve Perryand Jenifer MacGillvary

Press Coverage


In September 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a minimum wage of $15 per hour for fast-food workers would be phased in by 2018 in New York City, and by 2021 in the rest of the state. On the same day, the governor also announced his plan to push for a $15 minimum wage for all industries throughout the state, following the same timeline as the fast-food minimum.

When jobs don’t pay enough, workers turn to public assistance programs in order to meet their basic needs. This paper considers the public cost of low-wage jobs—specifically, jobs paying less than $15 an hour—by detailing how New York State, along with the federal government and localities, finances the public safety net that many low-wage New York families utilize.

Overall, we find that between 2011 and 2013 more than half (52 percent) of workers earning less than $15 per hour in New York were enrolled, or had a family member enrolled, in one or more of the major public assistance programs. The total annual cost of public assistance to low-wage workers in the State of New York during this time was $9.1 billion, with a cost to the state and local governments of $2.9 billion.