St. Louis Post Dispatch: Pierce Powers: Raising the minimum wage will lift St. Louis

Op-Ed By Pierce Powers
St. Louis Post Dispatch, March 10, 2017

My wife and I own a local restaurant, and we are very pleased that the Missouri Supreme Court ruling means that the city of St. Louis can finally implement the minimum wage increases passed in 2015. Raising the minimum wage is good business and good ethics.

From a business standpoint, I need as many customers as possible to be able to afford to walk through our doors and enjoy a meal. When wages go up, customer spending also goes up. A higher minimum wage will expand the consumer market for all local businesses. It’s a win-win for workers and businesses.

Moreover, raising the minimum wage will help level the playing field for local businesses like mine and big national chains. Walmart, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Sonic restaurants, for example, have long paid low wages. They count on taxpayers to subsidize them by filling the public assistance rolls with their underpaid employees.

Our employees make between $13.50 and $18 an hour. Local restaurant owners I know already pay entry wages of at least $10 to $12 an hour. Local businesses like ours are rooted in St. Louis and our state. We aren’t shipping our profits to out of state headquarters. We’re reinvesting them in our businesses and our community.

Our tax dollars are needed for schools, roads, public transit, parks and everything else that makes for a good business climate and good quality of life. They should not be going to subsidize the profits of out-of-state competitors who choose not to pay workers enough to live on. Raising the minimum wage will put a fairer share of the revenues from big chains into the paychecks of local workers. That will help our economy and our tax base.

My wife and I began our business in Soulard Market in 2008, where we gave half our food away to the local homeless population. People were hungry, and service was our mission. When we hired our first employee a couple years later, we committed to paying well. We now have a thriving brick-and-mortar restaurant that many say is lifting up the entire Fox Park neighborhood.

We invest in our employees, and it shows in our food and our service. We don’t waste money like the fast-food chains churning through employees who don’t earn enough to stay. It’s so penny wise and pound foolish to spend too little on wages and spend more on continually hiring and training replacement workers. Longer-term employees get to know your business and your customers and help you improve. And happy customers tell their friends and family about you.

To this day, our driving questions are: (1) how can we provide higher quality food for less and (2) how can we pay our people more? Which brings me to my final point.

My support for a higher minimum wage is a business decision, and it’s also informed by my Christian values. Give and you shall receive.

Truth be told, we find that making profit is the easy part. One dollar leads to the next a little more easily, and the more one buys, the cheaper the goods. But I’m also driven by my Christian values to do well by doing good.

I invite all business leaders to see both the macro-economic benefit of raising the minimum wage in terms of an expanding consumer market as well as the personal benefit of operating ethically as a Being of Virtue. Our customers certainly value that in our business. I believe that in this time of increasing cynicism we are all longing for something good and true. Just look at how our diverse greater St. Louis community came together to respond to the hateful vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery.

I invite all to identify raising the minimum wage as both good and true, and to get on board. We have more to do.

Raising the St. Louis minimum wage to $10 now and $11 in 2018 are important overdue steps toward a living wage. We look forward to progress later to also raise the state minimum wage.

A strong wage floor is good business, good economics and good ethics. It’s a vital part of the foundation of a thriving community.

Pierce Powers is co-owner of Lona's Lil Eats, a restaurant in the Fox Park neighborhood.

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Copyright 2017 Pierce Powers

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