Everyday People: NYC’s Minimum Wage Earners

| February 6, 2012 4:00 AM

Last week, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill that would raise New York’s minimum wage 17 percent, from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour. The bill, estimated to benefit one million New Yorkers, has strong backers — both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg support the hike. But the bill also has its detractors, some of whom say the increase would discourage businesses from hiring more employees.

So who makes minimum wage in New York City? The guy who serves you coffee? Your buddy at the gym? MetroFocus recently spent a day seeking out New Yorkers working at or near minimum wage, which was last raised eight years ago. Here’s a sampling of what minimum wage workers you might run into during your daily routine had to say about the proposed increase.

Mike Toms hands out the free paper AMNY every day from 6:30 - 9:30 a.m. at West 50th Street and Eighth Avenue. His goal is to be a party promoter. MetroFocus/Georgia Kral

8 a.m. Pick up your daily AMNY from your local “newsie.”

Who: Newspaper distributor Mike Toms, 25, from East New York, Brooklyn.

Currently earning: $8.50 an hour. Started at minimum wage in 2010.

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? “We need more money in our pockets. It would help boost the economy…And I’d like to buy a house.”


8:45 a.m. Grab a coffee and breakfast at Food Emporium, West 49th Street and Eighth Avenue.

Who: Check-out clerk Teresa, who declined to give her last name, 53, from Chinatown.

Currently earning: $11.95 an hour. Started at minimum wage in 2000.

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? “Everything goes up but our paychecks. We have to live! Before there was middle, low, high class, now there’s either low or high. We have to keep up with the cost of living.”


Alterique Hall works full-time at a Midtown McDonald's. He says life would be "more relaxed" if he made more money. MetroFocus/Sarah Berson

12:30 p.m. Get a quick bite at McDonald’s, West 51st Street and Broadway.

Who: McDonald’s employee Alterique Hall, 23, from West Harlem.

Currently earning: $8 an hour. Started at minimum wage.

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? “It’s not enough to support yourself. There’s rent, cell phone, MetroCard to even get to work, food. Life would be more comforting.”


1 p.m. Stop by Petland, Ninth Avenue and West 50th Street, and grab some food for your feline friend.

Who: Pet store salesperson Emile Parra, 29, from the South Bronx.

Currently earning: $10.50 an hour. Started at minimum wage in 2007.

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? “Everybody deserves a higher rate than minimum wage. A lot of people have a lot of bills to pay.”


Kauiz Fakema is a pharmacy cashier at Duane Reade. She says if the minimum wage were raised, life would be better. MetroFocus/Sarah Berson

1:15 p.m. Pick up some essentials at Duane Reade, West 42nd Street and Eighth Ave.

Who: Pharmacy cashier Kauiz Fakema, 27, from Briarwood, Queens.

Currently earning: $7.90 an hour. Started at minimum wage.

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? “It’s not enough right now. Everything costs money. Rent, bills, it’s not enough.”


5 p.m.: Get a key made by the locksmith at Bruno’s Hardware in Downtown Brooklyn.

Who: Locksmith Anthony Gonzalez, 54, from Queens Village, Queens.

Currently earning: $7.25 an hour.

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? “A small water is $1.50! It [minimum wage] is not enough. Give the people what they need.”


5:30 p.m.: Workout at New York Sports Club, Boerum Place and Pacific Street, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

Rahima Wachuku is an actor, when she's not working at New York Sports Club. She says she can't afford the room that she rents in Crown Heights. MetroFocus/Georgia Kral

Who: Front desk clerk Rahima Wachuku, 29, from Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Currently earning: $7.25 an hour, since 2010.

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? “I don’t make enough to support myself. At this point I’m living on beans and bread. If it were raised I’d be able to eat better food, I’d be able to get health care, I could finally get glasses.”


8 p.m. Take the kids for ice cream at Holey Cream, 9th Ave. and 53rd St.

Who: Ice-cream scooper Julie Geary, 23,  from Midtown East, Manhattan

Julie Geary scoops ice cream 50 to 60 hours a week at Holey Cream in Hell's Kitchen. MetroFocus/Georgia Kral

Currently earning: $7 an hour, plus tips, plus 50 cents per hour for having obtained a food safety certificate.

(Ed. Note: This section was changed after Geary contacted MetroFocus to correct the information she originally provided to us.)

What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? “That would be excellent. In order for me to barely get by I have to work 9, 10, 11 hours a day.”

Sarah Berson contributed reporting.

  • George

    Very good piece – this makes the issue much more real.

  • Florence Johnson

    wow, this article makes you see it for what it’s worth. The minimum wage currently is no better than slave labor. Let’s join the rest of civilization.

  • Jorge

    Really liked the range shown in this article. However, I would have liked to have seen some people outside the typical retail industries (e.g. home health aides, school bus monitors, airport contracted security guards).

  • Michael

    The issue of minimum wage is a very vaid one. However, the author is way off base. The minimum wage for restaurant workers (such as Geary at Holey Cream) is only $5.00 per hour. I am a manager there and she currently earns over $9.00 and hour and over $500.00 per week. She works hard and deserves every penny. Perhaps f economic times were better, she could be paid more. However, the proposed Sheldon Silver to raise minimum wages won’t change her compensation. The author has done a really POOR job of addressing a very real important issue for the true hard wiorking minimum wage earners.

    • Michael

      THe reason for the lower min wage in restaurants is the tips received by the workers. GEary at Holey Cream earns over $9.00 per hour after tips. Therefore, the proposed legislation does not address any change to her compensation.

  • Mags

    Raising minimum wage does. Othing more than keep workers working at minimum wages. The reason why better jobs don’t exist is because people buy imported crap indtead of reading labels and rejecting globalized products and food, and tax laws make it profitable for corps to offshore manufacture and import, shipping our wealh right out of the country. I have seen citizens too lazy to wait on a line for a human cashier to buy rather than ‘self-check out’ and putting a worker out of a job. There’s a lot. To be aaid for voting with your dollar.

  • cindy bainter

    the reason why minion wage is low is because the government wants to keep you under control, they want to keep you down . There has to be poor people to support the rich in their every day life, to sell them their news paper and coffee. To sell them the gasoline for their cars and the food they eat. These are service jobs that as a society we couldn’t do without . People are payed slave wages for these jobs because that’s what we are, slaves to our government.

    • LeaveRatRace

      It is not to our government – our government has fallen prey to banking society – WAKE UP – do not work these jobs – stay out of towns where rich societies pay slave wages – let them have their high priced cities and go live comfortably in a smaller town with less cost of living –

  • Melanie

    Excellent piece. People need to know reality! We keep the city moving and can’t afford to even live here.

  • nancy

    everything is going up except for the salaries – i commend the increase and fully support this legislation

  • Andy

    I think raising th eminimum does help som efolks but it also encourages employers to hire less people. either pay people better for low skilled work or hire more law enforcement people asnd build more jails.That worked in NY during the 9o’s.I;d prefer the first way.Most important don’t waste money on education unless it’s real training for jobs that exist like cook, cab drivers etc

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  • Joe

    I can see the Want to have a higher minimum wage. It is an issue of the effects of one.
    Enough people fall into it,then, what are the negative effects? For small business(any business actually) will have to get the money from somewhere,raise prices. Some smaller businesses will probably close because they can not afford it. THEN, you have another problem,those that worked there no longer do and are on unemployment.
    Usually the small business owner cannot collect it,because he/she is self employed, so those that really want higher minimum wages really got one over on your old boss,especially if you do not like him/her

  • greekdish

    Ridiculous article. If you want to earn more than minimum wage, get an education and get a better job. What kind of income do you expect working as cashier that any monkey can do?  The small business owner they are working for charges 99 cents for burgers and fries… and you want them to pay you $15 an hour to hand it over to consumers?? Give us all a break, stop whining, and work harder. Rent is hard on those earning $30 an hour too. It wont make a difference if you earn $7.25 or $15 an hour… you still cant afford to pay rent in Manhattan. You will only put that small business…. OUT of business.

    • LeaveRatRace

      People should not work these jobs – period. Leave New York City – it is so overrated and let the people going to work who make the big bucks get their own coffee – who cares about small business if its your life that is at stake – WAKE UP PEOPLE do not work in New York unless you make at least $100k

  • LeaveRatRace

    Stop catering to the rich – stop buying brand name – buy cheap but good products – stop buying at restaurants, coffe shops every day – go once a week, decide what you are willing to pay for item before you shop. Cities are for the people who are collecting rental/lease payments from commercial, residential, properties. Do not live or purchase from these cities who hold you hostage because you don’t know who you are. They are telling you – you are New Yorkers, Londoners, Parisians, blah, blah, blah – when actually you are a slave wage earner. Patriarchs sodomize societies – if you don’t believe it I have proof. Look at your life! Start looking for other places to live and do not be afraid of leaving – anything is better than being a slave

  • Professor

    There is a minimum cost of living, and if a person doesn’t get it from their job they get it from government hand outs, and then the taxpayer pays instead of the company that is making the profit. So if minimum wages are not increased to cover the cost of living, then everybody who works will have to pay higher taxes to make up the difference. And who wins, the companies that get the government and the taxpayers to subsides their cost of wages and benefits.

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