State Journal Register: Robert Olson: Point: Raising the minimum wage boosts business

Op-Ed By Robert Olson
State Journal-Register (IL), May 18, 2017

People are at the heart of our business — from our employees to our customers.

As the owner of a life insurance company, I meet with hardworking men and women every day who want to protect their families for the future, but are struggling to make ends meet today. Their wages just don’t add up.

The current $8.25 Illinois minimum wage doesn’t provide an adequate floor under workers’ wages or under our economy. Workers have a tough time affording basics like food, rent, utilities, transportation and health care. Businesses suffer from weak consumer demand.

Raising the minimum wage is a kind of insurance for workers and businesses. When the minimum wage is set too low, it’s bad for workers and their families who are under constant financial stress. It’s bad for customers — who are workers themselves. And it’s bad for businesses and our economy.

I support the proposal to gradually raise our state minimum wage to $15 by 2022. Raising the minimum wage will enable workers to make ends meet and it will increase the consumer spending that businesses depend on. It will strengthen business and our tax base.

As a company with offices in Springfield, Lombard and Washington, and customers throughout Illinois, I know from experience that fair pay is good for the bottom line. When we invest in our employees, they are more invested in our business. Employees stay with us longer, which means we can spend less on hiring and training new staff. We have employees with higher morale, longer-term commitment and knowledge, and, as a result, more satisfied customers.

Under the proposed legislation, the minimum wage will be raised gradually, which gives low-wage businesses time to plan and adjust. Businesses will see the benefits of raising the minimum wage like increased consumer spending, cost savings from lower staff turnover, increased productivity and better customer service.

Raising the minimum wage will also mean a more level playing field for business. It’s not right that some businesses pay wages that are so low their employees need public assistance and private charity just to get by.

Don’t get me wrong. A few years ago, we started a new program in our agency. Every month at our month-end meeting, we give our #1 Agent of the Month a check made out to his or her favorite charity. At the meeting, the winning agent educates the entire agency about the organization they are donating to. We’ve supported institutions like Children’s Memorial Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the Chicago Anti-Hunger Association.

We want a strong minimum wage that is anti-hunger, anti-homelessness and anti-poverty — and a strong safety net for people who need it.

Our life insurance can mean the difference between someone losing their home or keeping it, or sending the first person in their family to college. Raising the minimum wage can mean the difference between someone having a place to call home or any hope of working their way through college.

Increasing the paychecks of workers in Illinois by raising the minimum wage will have a multiplying effect in businesses and communities throughout our state.

As a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a national network of business owners and executives, I’m in good company in supporting a minimum wage increase. From large manufacturers to Main Street small businesses, we know that raising the minimum wage will be good for business, customers and the economy.

Raising the minimum wage will help us restore the fading American Dream for both workers and businesses. It’s time for lawmakers to act.

— Robert Olson is owner of Olson & Associates in Springfield, Lombard and Washington and Illinois state general agent of American Income Life.

Copyright 2017 Robert Olson

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