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The continuing debate over the minimum wage law is one that disproportionately affects retailers. That doesn't mean all retailers see it the same way.
Leadeing the charge against federal raises is the National Retail Federation. The advocacy group has published statement after statement urging Congress to stand down to the push for higher wages.
“Raising the standard of living for low-skill, low-wage workers is a valid goal,” NRF SVP for government relations David French said in a letter to the entire Senate. “But there is clear evidence that mandated wage hikes undermine the job prospects for less skilled and part-time workers.”
The way the NRF sees it, businesses are already contending with the challenges associated with the Affordable Care Act, and if there were ever a good time to mandate a federal wage increase, now is certainly not it.
“Policymakers have other tools, such as increasing the earned income tax credit, fixing the tax code, education improvements, immigration reform, transportation funding, and strong trade alliances that will aid in achieving that goal without creating more unemployment,” French wrote. “Finding more opportunities for those trying to start out is a better economic approach than restricting the amount of jobs for those seeking employment."
In retail circles, the feeling expressed by the NRF is widespread, but not unanimous.
Gina Schaefer, the owner of nine Ace Hardware stores in the D.C. metro area took a stand at Capitol Hill in favor of raising the federal minimum wage. Schaefer spoke at an April 3 event with Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and several other members of Congress.
Schaefer was one of hundreds of business owners and organizations that have signed the Business For a Fair Minimum Wage Statement, which advocates for a minimum wage increase to $10.10 over three years and then adjusting it annually according to the rising cost of living. Adjusting for inflation, today's $7.25 minimum wage is a third less than it was in 1968, they argue.
“There’s a lot of business support for raising the minimum wage,” Schaefer said. “Paying fair wages helped our business grow fast from our first store in 2003 to nine stores and nearly 200 employees now. When employees earn a decent starting wage, they can concentrate on their job and our customers without continual stress over how they are going to afford basics like rent, groceries or transportation. Fair wages help us attract and retain good employees, increase sales, expand our business and hire more employees. Our employees shop at other businesses, and the employees of other businesses shop at our stores. It’s a win-win for workers and businesses,” she said.
(The HCN minimum wage poll shows variety of opinion on the federal minimum wage. Take the poll here.)
Paul Saginaw, owner of Zingerman's Deli and another member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, added, “We know from experience a minimum wage increase makes great sense for business. Since opening Zingerman’s Deli almost 32 years ago, we’ve grown to eight businesses employing 625 permanent staff with revenues just under $50 million dollars. Paying entry wages our employees can live on has been important for our profitability and our annual compounded growth rate of 10%. Raising the minimum wage would boost our communities and our economy.”