On Monday, New York's City Council passed a living wage ordinance, reports Good Jobs New York's Bettina Damiani. The 45-5 vote means the Council can easily override a threatened veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (New York Post, May 1, via Nexis subscription service).
As I analyzed in Competing for Capital, the Living Wage movement attempts to reform, rather than abolish, economic development subsidies. The basic idea is the same as performance requirements in international investment negotiations, i.e., that a company that receives subsidies has to provide additional benefits to the city providing those incentives. As its name suggest, the most common demand is that subsidized firms have to pay a specified wage that is higher than the usual minimum wage. According to Living Wage NYC, over 140 cities in the U.S. have living wage ordinances, and the idea has spread to the U.K., Canada, and New Zealand.
In New York's case, the law specifies that companies receiving at least $1 million in subsidies must pay $10/hour if they provide health benefits, or $11.50/hour otherwise. This is not a lot of money in New York City, yet a study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, Good Jobs New York, and the National Employment Law Project found multiple cases where subsidized projects paid even less, such as the Bronx Gateway Mall, which the study found had starting wages of $8.80 per hour. According to the study, the city spends over $2 billion annually on economic development incentives.
Mayor Bloomberg blasted the measure as a "jobs killer," language reminiscent of minimum wage critics. We should remember that, according to Paul Krugman (Conscience of a Liberal) recent studies of the minimum wage do not uphold the long-claimed negative effects of the minimum wage on jobs. In fact, work beginning with that of David Card and Alan Krueger (now the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers) deftly picked apart previous studies in a process known as meta-analysis.
The biggest drawback to the New York law is that it was narrowly drawn by Council Speaker (and probable mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn in order to appease business interests. In fact, according to the Post story, it would affect "at least 600 employees a year," which is hardly a big number in New York. But we can count on advocates to try to expand its scope in the next few years.