One useful standard of comparison is the federal government’s estimate of the median wage for all jobs. The median is the midway point on the pay scale, with half of jobs paying more and half paying less. The chart below shows how the medians for different New York regions line up against the current statewide minimum of $8.75 as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $15 minimum, which would be phased in by 2021 for areas outside New York City.
The median hourly wage of all full- and part-time jobs (estimated as of May 2014) ranged from a high of $21.73 in the New York City metro area (which includes the White Plains and Wayne, NJ, metros) to a low of $15.30 in the Glens Falls area. Other upstate regions with median wages just above $15 include Utica-Rome at $15.91, along with the non-metro areas of Capital/Northern New York at $15.77, Central New York at $15.59 and Southwest non-metro New York at $15.49.
What would Mario do?
Governor Cuomo has evoked the memory of his late father in support of what he is now calling the “Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice.” As governor, Mario Cuomo proposed a minimum wage increase at least once, seeking to increase the level from $3.35 to $3.75. That increase, which failed to pass the Legislature, would have represented a modest bump of 12 percent compared to the 67 percent boost proposed by his son (comparing $15 to the $9 scheduled to take effect in 2016).
New York State tracked the federal wage throughout Cuomo’s tenure, rising from $3.35 in 1983 to $4.25 in 1994. In real terms, in 2015 dollars, that represented a decrease from $8.03 to $6.84.
To be sure, it would seem safe to assume that, if Mario Cuomo were still alive, he would support the policy advocated by his son. Nonetheless, the historical record shows he never came close to advocating the same thing while he was governor.