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Cornell researchers find only 40 percent of New Yorkers earn living wage

Researchers at Cornell used a living wage calculator from MIT and data from the U.S. Census Bureau to develop a toolthat would show how many New Yorkers are earning a living wage.

Rusty Weaver, Director of Research at the Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) School’s Buffalo Co-Lab, said the results were surprising.

"Only about 40 percent of the workforce is earning at or above their specific living wages, and so that's a number that's, at least on our side, thinking about how that should be 100 percent, we're pretty far from that goal," said Weaver.

The living wage calculator examines factors like the costs of food, housing, transportation, and taxes to determine a living wage in any given location. For example, for a family of four in Syracuse with two working parents, a living wage would be about $25 per hour. In New York City, it would be about $30 per hour.

Weaver said Cornell’s tool shows significant racial disparities with 46 percent of white employees receiving a living wage, and just 30 percent of Black employees and 26 percent of Hispanic employees reaching that benchmark.

And only about 28 percent of younger workers, born after 1981, earn a living wage.

"That's certainly not something we would see maybe going back a couple of generations, where coming out of high school without a college degree, you might be able to jump right into a job that pays a living wage and be on a fast track to a middle-class lifestyle," Weaver said.

Researchers found the industries least likely to pay a living wage are food service and accommodations, and the best are utilities, scientific services, and tech jobs.

Weaver said he’s hopeful policymakers can use the information from Cornell’s Wage Atlas to make decisions about future investments.

"We were thinking about this tool as maybe being something where we can look at proposals for subsidies coming in and the industry of jobs being created and whether or not those jobs are likely to pay living wages,” he said.

Weaver said right now, researchers do not have data on how nearby states compare, but they’re hoping to scale the project to examine that down the line.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.