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Living Wage 2009 Press Release

Alternatives Federal Credit Union has released its bi-yearly Living Wage Study, which shows the minimum wage needed in Tompkins County to earn a living for a single person working full-time.

The updated study looks at housing, transportation, health care and other necessities, as well as recreation and savings, to come up with an annual figure of $23,104, up 13% from $20,450 two years ago.  As an hourly wage, that would be $11.11/hour for a 40-hour week, up from $9.83/hour.  This figure represents the Living Wage for an individual receiving health insurance from their employer.  New York State’s minimum wage is $7.15/hour.


The Living Wage Press Conference panel was:

Pete Meyers, TompkinsCounty Workers’ Center

Joe Wetmore, owner, Autumn Leaves Used Books, a Living Wage Employer

Noelia Springston, employee of Jillian’s Drawers, a Living Wage Employer

Tristram Coffin, Chief Executive Officer, Alternatives Federal Credit Union

Leni Hochman, Chief Operations Officer, Alternatives Federal Credit Union


Alternatives is one of 62 employers in TompkinsCounty that is a Certified Living Wage Employer, according to the TompkinsCountyWorkersCenter certification process. The Center’s Pete Meyers announced two local businesses that recently started paying a Living Wage, but also lamented: “There are still too many employers who are not interested in paying a Living Wage.  Keeping labor costs down is their first line of defense.”

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center uses the Living Wage, as determined by Alternatives, to advocate for workers, educate the community and organize campaigns to help workers earn a Living Wage. They certify Living Wage Employers and publish the list on their website and newsletter to encourage the community to selectively shop at Living Wage employers.

Hochman admitted, “In the current economy, paying a Living Wage is going to be difficult for a lot of small businesses. Still, it doesn't change the argument that someone who works full time should be able to make ends meet – and have a little fun – and save some for a rainy day. It doesn't change the fact that rent, health care and food costs have increased over the last two years at a rate greater than inflation.”

Noelia Springston spoke about her and her husband’s decision to start a family, and how Noelia continuing at a full-time job wouldn’t be feasible, especially when considering the high cost of daycare.  Finding a part-time job at Jillian’s Drawers, a Living Wage Employer, made it possible for Noelia to spend quality time with her daughter, without having to make too many financial compromises.  Springston stated: “I still have to be frugal and creative with my spending, but earning a Living Wage enables me to go beyond ‘just getting by’.”

The Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Association’s Executive Director, Paul Mazzarella, contributed additional statistics on housing costs:  “Here in TompkinsCounty, housing costs are 40% to 60% higher than in the surrounding counties, yet wages are not proportionally higher.  TompkinsCounty is a wonderful place to live, but the very fact that it’s desirable to so many people drives housing costs up.  Between 2000 and 2009, the Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom apartment rose 56%, a rate that is far faster than the increase in incomes.  In only one year, from 2007 to 2008, it rose nearly 16%.” 

Joe Wetmore, owner of Autumn Leaves Used Books, believes businesses shouldn’t be in business if they’re not paying a Living Wage.  Wetmore would also like to see the federal government raise the national minimum wage and implement single payer healthcare to further sustain both small and large businesses. 

Alternatives published its first Living Wage Study in 1994 and has updated it every other year since then. The study was originally done for internal use by Alternatives, but its release to the public was encouraged by the Board of Directors. It has stimulated important discussion about the meaning of earning a Living Wage and provided a benchmark for others to use in TompkinsCounty

Hochman asserts that paying a Living Wage has advantages to the community. When people are paid enough to support themselves, they no longer need to rely on public assistance in the form of housing subsidies, medical assistance, food stamps and welfare, which are paid for in everyone’s taxes. Further, people earning a living wage pay more taxes and buy more goods and services in the local economy. The vast majority of economic research concludes that there is little or no job reduction associated with wage increases, and the benefits far outweigh any negative consequences.

The Alternatives Federal Credit Union Board has committed to paying staff the Living Wage for an individual and would like to see other employers follow suit. They assert that the Living Wage not only benefits employees, but has advantages to businesses too. It can reduce employee turnover and absenteeism, and lower recruitment and training costs. Appreciative staff means increased productivity and higher morale and commitment to the company.




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Chris Setlock

In the spring of 2014, we learned that our minivan needed repairs in excess of it's value. We'd already been cutting back on our auto use, and were trying to walk and bike more. We'd been talking with friends and reading about cargo bikes as a car alternative. Around the same time, a new business, "Boxy Bikes" opened in Ithaca, which specializes in electric and cargo bikes. We found a model we were interested in, and approached alternatives seeking financing. Alternatives set us up with a signature loan, and a "green loan" discount on our rate. Thanks to Alternatives, we are now the happy owners of a "Yuba Mundo" Electric Cargo bike. We can get anywhere we need to go, using no gas, and creating no emissions. I can carry two passengers, or a weeks worth of groceries. The loan will be paid off in two years, and the bike could last for many more, at a fraction of the cost of an automobile.

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