Philadelphia Inquirer: Amy Edelman: Minimum wage increase helps workers, employers

Op-Ed By Amy Edelman
Philadelphia Inquirer, May 18, 2015. Also in the St. Mary's Daily Press, Ridgway Record, Kane Republican, May 28; The Express (Lockhaven), June 26; other papers

As a business owner in Philadelphia, I know we need to raise the minimum wage, and we need to act now. It's good for my business, customers, and our economy.

My perspective is grounded in 15 successful years as a small-business owner. I own and operate a bakery with my husband. We've more than doubled our staff and grown our business every year. The wages and benefits we offer our employees are central to our success.

All our employees start well above the current Pennsylvania minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. We employ 20 people, with counter staff starting at $10 per hour and kitchen staff earning $12 to $18 per hour. We also offer health-insurance reimbursement and paid time off.

With wages employees can live on, we have lower employee turnover. We know it's a lot better to pay employees properly and benefit from their experience than spend money on continually hiring and training new people. Finding and training a new employee costs us roughly 20 percent of a person's annual wages. And there are naturally more mistakes and more waste as new staff learn a business and a craft. Those mistakes cost a lot of money. If I can pay someone a fair wage and keep him or her longer, it costs me less in the long run.

Happier employees improve our bottom line in other ways. They enjoy their work and believe in our business. They are hardworking and efficient, and they produce a superior product with better customer service. That translates into the returning customers that drive small-business success.

Fair wages have also created a loyal customer following for our business. Consumers are increasingly savvy about corporate social responsibility and have a choice in where they spend their money. Our customers know we care about our workers and our community, and that increases their support for our business.

Raising the minimum wage will boost business across our state. Workers are also customers. If we raise their pay, they have more money to spend at businesses like mine. Increased spending and consumer demand drive job growth, which has been weak in Pennsylvania in recent years. We all benefit from the extra consumer spending a higher minimum wage provides.

That's why polls show that a strong majority - 61 percent - of small-business owners nationally support an increase to $10.10. It's why I've joined with businesses across the commonwealth to express my support by signing the Pennsylvania Business for a Fair Minimum Wage statement.

We know that a minimum wage that's too low is actually a drag on the economy. Our current minimum wage has much less buying power than it had in the 1960s, even though our economy is twice as productive. Twenty-nine states, including all six of our neighboring states, have minimum wages above $7.25.

That $7.25 per hour, which translates to $15,080 for a year of full-time work, is not enough to cover basic needs for food, housing, health, and security. As a result, many minimum-wage workers rely on public assistance to get by.

Pennsylvania's economy needs a raise, and my business demonstrates that this is doable. When an employee has the means to thrive, a business thrives.

I encourage business owners to consider how their employees and businesses would be better served by having a minimum wage that strengthens our economy rather than undermines it. We won't be able to rebuild our shrinking middle class if the minimum wage keeps people mired in poverty.

Let's take action now on the will of a strong majority of voters across the state by raising our minimum wage. We're all better off when employees have a fair piece of the pie.

Amy Edelman is a co-owner of the Night Kitchen Bakery and Café and a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.

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Copyright 2015 Amy Edelman

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