ITHACA, N.Y. — A local effort is underway to examine the potential impacts of making a living wage the standard in Tompkins County.

The latest living wage study by Alternatives Federal Credit Union found a single person working full time would have to make $28,911 per year, or $13.90 per hour 40 hours a week to afford the cost of living in Tompkins County. That figure is for a person whose employer provides health insurance.

For people who do not have insurance covered, AFCU says a person needs to make $15.11 per hour to cover the cost to purchase insurance.

The minimum wage is currently $10.40 per hour.

Local small and large business owners, elected officials, nonprofit representatives and researchers will come together to “study likely costs and benefits of making the living wage a minimum wage in Tompkins County and contribute to broader understandings of local minimum wages,” a news release from the Tompkins County Workers’ Center said.

There will be eight information-gathering sessions before research begins, including employers and workers. The participants will discuss the good and bad of how a living wage would impact them and the community.

The working group will be chaired by Legislator Anna Kelles and facilitated by Sally Klingel of the Scheinman Institute at Cornell’s ILR School. It has been organized by Pete Meyers, coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center.

Kelles said they will gather preliminary information and then do a deeper, formal study. They plan look at the current state of wages by sector. Kelles said it’s important to thoroughly study the potential impacts of raising the minimum wage locally to make sure the policy does not cause harm or a loss of jobs. On a basic level, they will be examining “Will it create the benefits we’re looking for?” Kelles said.

Kelles said it’s important issue to study because incomes have not been rising along with the cost of living.

“Legislators represent everyone who lives in a county, and I think that a living wage is called a living wage for a reason,” Kelles said. “It’s very important. It allows people to live off the money they’re making. We know in the country, incomes have been flat while the cost of living has increased.”

The outcomes of the study could vary, Kelles said. It could recognize the difficulties people in the county face, it could result in advocacy and education or it could result it proposed local legislation that would require a living wage as the minimum wage. However, anything a local government passes would have to also be approved by the state.

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center is asking members of the community to consider being part of the conversation. To learn more or to reach out about joining the discussion, email or call the Tompkins County Workers’ Center at 607-269-0409.

Other members of the study group include:

  • Cynthia Brock (City of Ithaca Common Council, First Ward);
  • Dan Brown (Executive Director, Franziska Racker Centers);’
  • Rob Brown (Operations Manager, Tompkins County Workers’ Center);
  • Mandy Ellis (NY Statewide Organizer, Civil Service Employees Association);
  • Gary Ferguson (Executive Director, Downtown Ithaca Alliance);
  • Bill Goodman (Supervisor, Town of Ithaca);
  • Ian Greer (Senior Research Associate, Cornell ILR School);
  • Pam Gueldner (Owner, Manndible Café);
  • Lisa Holmes (Director, Tompkins County Office for the Aging);
  • Michael Hoysic (Human Resource Manager, GreenStar);
  • Jason Leifer (Supervisor, Town of Dryden);
  • Eric Levine (acting CEO, Alternative Federal Credit Union);
  • Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (Tompkins County Legislator, District 1; Director GIAC);
  • Shaianne Osterreich (Board Member IC3 Downtown Children’s Center, Chair Ithaca College Economics Department);
  • Kathleen Pasetty (Owner, Fork and Gavel Café);
  • Kathy Schlather (Executive Director, Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County);
  • Erin Smith (Leadership Team Member, Tompkins County Workers’ Center);
  • Jennifer Tavares (President & CEO, Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce).

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.