Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Simon Arias: Raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage

Everyone benefits when all workers make a decent living

Op-Ed By Simon Arias
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 29, 2015. Also in Scranton Times-Tribune, Nov 1

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, which is bad for business as well as workers. We lag behind 29 states that have higher minimum wages, including all six of our neighboring states.

We might as well have highway signs saying, “Welcome to Pennsylvania — Where the Minimum Wage is Less than Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Delaware and West Virginia.”

Policy makers need to remember that workers are also customers. Today’s minimum wage has less buying power than the minimum wage had in the 1960s. That’s bad for business.

As a business owner with offices in Pittsburgh, Erie, Wilkes-Barre, State College and Canonsburg, I know that the proposal to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 makes good business sense. It will increase the wages of more than a million workers, boosting sales at Main Street businesses across our state.

I started my life insurance agency in 2008 and by 2012 it was named Pittsburgh’s Top Workplace among small businesses by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and maintains its A rating.

The minimum wage is a kind of insurance. Set at a decent level, the minimum wage helps ensure that people who work full-time make enough to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead.

Unfortunately, the current minimum wage is not decent. It keeps even full-time workers in poverty and undermines our economy.

My life insurance agents visit more than 1,200 working families in Pennsylvania a week. Every day we hear from hard-working Pennsylvanians who want to provide for their families but are struggling to make ends meet.

Many families who want to purchase life insurance to protect their financial futures simply cannot afford to do so. Working for $7.25 an hour, 40 hours a week, comes to just $15,080 a year. It’s not a livable wage. It’s not the solid wage floor we need to assure the healthy consumer demand that sustains strong job growth.

I pride myself on offering a fair wage and treating my employees as the best investment in my agency’s long-term growth. My starting wage is $15 an hour — more than double the current minimum wage. We also offer health insurance, vacation time and paid sick leave.

Businesses claiming Pennsylvania can’t phase in a $10.10 minimum wage should look to the problems in their business model.

Paying a higher wage has not hurt my business — it has been a sustaining factor in our growth. My employees are focused on their work and not distracted by continual financial stress.

Our employee turnover is very low, which saves me from the costly cycle of hiring, training and losing employees that plagues many low-wage businesses. My employees know they can grow along with my business and that good customer service benefits everyone.

Most business owners support at least a $10.10 minimum wage. In a nationally representative 2014 poll, 61 percent of small-business owners with employees favored a $10.10 minimum wage, plus cost of living adjustments in future years.

Business owners like me are signing the Pennsylvania Business for a Fair Minimum Wage statement supporting an increase because we know that raising the minimum wage will be good for business, customers and our economy.

We know that decent wages bring lower employee turnover, increased productivity, better employee performance and a higher level of customer satisfaction.

We know we cannot revitalize the American Dream when a growing number of full-time workers are turning to food stamps, food banks and other assistance to survive.

In the words of Roger Smith, the CEO of American Income Life, “Raising the minimum wage makes good economic sense, but it’s much more than that. You cannot have a strong economy or fulfill the promise of the American Dream when most Americans are running in place or falling behind while the richest Americans pull further away from the rest.”

It’s time to stop holding Pennsylvania back with a woefully inadequate minimum wage. It’s time to move forward.

Simon Arias, a Pennsylvania general agent for American Income Life, owns the Arias Agencies (ariasagencies.com).

Read Op-Ed in Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Read in Scranton Times-Tribune

Copyright 2015 Simon Arias


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