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Only Government Could Pay $51.71 an Hour to Pick Up Debris

By Norman Poltenson


As old and jaded as I am, government never fails to amaze me with its bureaucratic rigidity and disregard for the taxpayer.

E.J. McMahon, of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, just highlighted yet another example of government waste and regulatory idiocy. Last summer, Poughkeepsie’s Fallkill Creek sustained damage from flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Some might think that the proper course to clean up the debris would be to hire temporary workers and pay the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Government thinks otherwise. 

The funds, courtesy of Uncle Sam, are channeled to youth employment through the state Department of Labor, which is bound to pay prevailing rates for public work according to the law. The Labor Department equates prevailing wages to wages earned by union members in the locality, a concept developed in the 1930s to keep Southern blacks from coming north to take jobs from whites at lower wages.

The prevailing hourly wage in the mid-Hudson region is $30.71, plus benefits of $21 an hour. The state Labor Department’s communications director, Leo Rosales, said that if the workers had been union members, the additional $21 would be paid for union dues and training. Since the temporary workers are not union members, the government is required to pay them the equivalent amount. According to the National Emergency Grant, the program funder, the premise is that “… wages must be paid at the higher of federal, state, or local minimum wage, or the comparable rates of pay for individuals employed in similar occupations by the same employer.”

Feel better now that you heard the explanation?

This is our government at work. Common sense says we could hire 1,000 young people at minimum wage and not only clean up the creek but also do it a lot faster and save taxpayers a bundle of money.

This is just the latest example of why “prevailing wage” law drives up our taxes and taxes our faith in government to offer services at a reasonable cost. Paying youth the equivalent of an annual six-figure salary to perform menial labor is both ludicrous and unnecessary since there are plenty of able-bodied workers who would fill the temporary positions for far less compensation.


Norman Poltenson is publisher of The Central New York Business Journal. Contact him at


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