Mike Bloomberg: Remember, It Costs Money to Pay A Living Wage


In his weekly radio show, Mayor Mike Bloomberg took the opportunity to remind everyone that he’s not the biggest fan of a living wage bill. It’s been one of the hot-button political issues this month that put City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in a bit of a pickle. Basically, Quinn, a mayoral hopeful, needed to please folks with completely opposite views and tried to do so with this compromise: a bill that would require higher wages at city-subsidized developments ($10 an hour plus benefits, instead of the current $7.25 minimum hourly wage). The compromise was that direct employees of tax-break recipients would receive the higher wage — but not their tenants.

She was navigating the competing interests of those who want higher wages (unions) and those who worry it would hurt businesses and cost the city jobs (her friend, Mr. Bloomberg). She managed to announce the compromise with reps from both sides of the argument standing with her.

But apparently, Bloomberg is still pretty wary.

On his weekly show with John Gambling this morning (he was calling in from the road since he’s on his way to Washington D.C. for a Mayors Conference), Bloomberg expressed some concern about the financial realities of the living wage bill, despite his support for raising the minimum wage in the city, which he discussed at his State of the City speech last week.

“Mr. Mayor, I know that the living wage bill is something that you don’t think is a very good idea. City Council thinks otherwise, somewhat controversial…You talked about increasing the minimum wage. Is that sort of a step towards?” Gambling asked.

“No, I don’t know that’s a step towards…” said Bloomberg. “There are two issues when you talk about things like the minimum wage. One is the competitive issue — if it’s cheaper to do things elsewhere, companies will move and they’ll move the jobs with them. And two, there is the absolute level of them, because if the workers don’t generate enough revenue to cover their expenses, companies won’t have them.”

With something like the living wage, he said, “You could have young people not able to get jobs or losing jobs they already have.” Bloomberg explained that the minimum wage in the city is the same as the federal minimum wage and that Massachusetts and Connecticut are higher. (Conventional wisdom, he said, is that New Jersey will use New York as cover to raise theirs.)

“I don’t think we get hurt from a completive point of view. We are worried with this to make sure that kids who lose their jobs, we can help them.” (A “small” raise is appropriate, though, he said!)

Still, he added, before he had to run off to his D.C. duties, “Once you start getting into picking who the minimum wage is applied to, then you’ve got something very different….The trouble is, well, we’ll have it if somebody’s in a building where the city or the state gave money to help build the building. Well, this raises the costs. You either have to give them more or they won’t build. You just cannot replace the private sector with public sector saying we want people to get more, we don’t want to pay for it, let’s make somebody else for it. In the end, we all pay for it.”