Everyday People: NYC’s Minimum Wage Earners

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.


MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.


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