New Analysis: 60% of NY Restaurant Employees Work for Very Small Businesses

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fast-food wage board concluded its fourth and final public hearing this week, and will now retreat to decide on a new wage mandate for the industry.

Numerous speakers at the four hearings emphasized the executive pay and sizable revenue stream at some of the country’s most-recognizable fast food brands. Most notably, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio testified before the board and argued that “multi-billion dollar corporations” could afford to pay more–specifically, a $15 minimum wage.

Unfortunately for the Mayor — as well as the dozens, if not hundreds, of speakers who used a similar argument — it doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny from government data.

In the March supplement to its Current Population Survey, the Census Bureau collects data on the size of the business where employees work. Six broad categories are used, ranging from extremely small businesses with fewer than 10 employees up to large corporations with 1000+ employees. The Employment Policies Institute used data from 2012-14 to identify the business size for all restaurant employees in New York who earn less than $15 an hour.

Contrary to the rhetoric at hearings in Buffalo, New York City, Long Island, and Albany, the numbers show that over 60 percent of these employees work at businesses with fewer than 50 employees. (Among all restaurant employees in the state, 60 percent work for these very small businesses.) Some of these businesses may be independent brands; others may be small businesses owned by a franchisee of a national brand. But they’re a far cry from “multi-billion dollar corporations.”


The full results, displayed below, do show that 23 percent of these restaurant employees in New York work at large corporations with 1000+ employees. But these employees are matched almost person-for-person by the nearly 22 percent of employees who work at extremely small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

New York’s wage board members have an important task ahead, but–should they decide on a dramatic new wage mandate for a segment of the restaurant industry–they shouldn’t be fooled into believing that only large corporations will take a hit.

Business Size, NY Restaurant Employees Earning Less than $15
Under 10 Employees 21.5%
10-49 Employees 41.5%
50 – 99 Employees 5%
100 – 499 Employees 7%
500 – 999 Employees 1.8%
1000+ Employees 23.1%
Total 100%