This past week, Alderman Michael Jones ’11 reintroduced his living wage proposal, which would increase minimum wages from $12 to $14.67 an hour for employees of companies with New Haven city contracts. This legislation will hurt taxpayers and workers at a time when neither can afford it. Instead of focusing on these types of flashy but flawed policies, Mr. Jones should respond to the real needs of his constituents: Yale students.
Supporters of the higher living wage contend that businesses will absorb the entire cost of the wage-hike and simply accept lower profits. This logic is deeply flawed. If the companies doing business with the city can, in fact, operate with less profit, then taxpayers today are overpaying for their services. If the premise underlying Jones’ proposal is indeed correct, the Board of Alderman and the mayor have been permitting companies to fleece the city with bloated contracts while generating excessive profits.
The real impact of the higher living wage will be higher costs for services and goods for the city. New Haven taxpayers will shoulder this burden at a time when their own private sector salaries stagnate. It is irresponsible to place this financial hardship on a city already facing a serious budget shortfall. Recently, the mayor fired 16 police officers to help close the city’s fiscal gap — Jones’ living wage would hand a pink slip to countless more.
The wage-hike not only socks the taxpayers’ pockets, but also hurts the workers it is designed to help. A 20 percent increase in the price of labor deters companies from hiring new employees and retaining old ones. Companies with New Haven contracts will trim labor at every corner, creating new hardships for those with and those seeking jobs in a time of already high unemployment.
But the living wage proposal is not simply bad business, bad for New Haven and bad for New Haven taxpayers. It is emblematic of a more serious trend: Ward 1 aldermen have become social reformers at the expense of their electorate. These men and women, voted into office by their Yale peers, typically focus on eye-catching citywide initiatives like Jones’ living wage, forgetting about their constituents. The aldermen’s apparent logic: Yalies have no political needs, so the Yale alderman can roam free to fix New Haven’s social problems. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Here are two of many examples of city issues, past and present, that affect Yale students and call for aldermanic representation.
One: In the aftermath of the Elevate raid, Yale students need a strong voice with legitimacy in City Hall to decry police brutality and push for a comprehensive investigation to make sure nothing like this happens again. Instead of leading our community, Jones has remained mostly silent in the face of serious police misbehavior aimed at his constituents. The result: An internal affairs investigation which whitewashes police offenses during the Elevate raid, ignores police perjury after the fact, and increases the likelihood of another incident. What’s more, this internal affairs boondoggle doesn’t just hurt Yalies; it sends a message to every New Haven citizen that the police force doesn’t face consequences for abuses of authority.
Two: Recently, the mayor approached the state legislature about authorizing the city to enact local option sales taxes. These taxes would disproportionately affect Yalies, who shop and eat almost exclusively downtown. Unlike other consumers who can drive to nearby towns to avoid these taxes, Yale students are at a unique disadvantage because of our immobility. What is more, the added cost of the tax will hit hardest those students on financial aid who are already seeing the self-help portion of their tuition rise. We need our alderman to categorically oppose any local option sales tax.
Ultimately, Jones’ legacy is one of inaction. He has failed to address the true needs of his constituents and has instead pushed unsound proposals like a wage-hike. As we begin to select a new Ward 1 alderman, let’s pick someone with economic understanding and a real dedication to us at Yale: the voters he or she will represent.
Nathaniel Zelinsky is a sophomore in Davenport College.