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Front Page » December 17, 2013 » Opinion » Economy can't have weak base
Published 226 days ago

Economy can't have weak base


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By CAMILLE MORAN
Guest columnist

Let's bring the spirit of Christmas to Congress. The last time the minimum wage went up was in 2009, and, as the owner of a Christmas tree farm and other businesses, I think it's time for another raise.

Today's $7.25 an hour minimum wage befits Scrooge - before he saw the error of his ways. It amounts to just $15,080 a year for full-time workers.

Workers shouldn't have to depend on food stamps or food banks to put Christmas Dinner on their tables.

In my state, Louisiana, which is not a high-cost state, a single adult needed income of $19,256 to afford basic expenses such as food, housing, transportation, health care and taxes in 2012, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. That's $9.26 an hour at 40 hours a week year-round, which is $2 more an hour than the current minimum wage.

McDonald's made waves this year by recommending a sample monthly budget to its employees - many of them earning at or near minimum wage - that assumed they needed a second job to make ends meet. Most McDonald's employees, like most minimum-wage workers, are adults. The budget had them working at McDonald's for $1,105 a month after taxes, and then a second job for $955 - for a total of $24,720 yearly after taxes. McDonald's CEO Don Thompson, meanwhile, made $13.8 million in 2012. That's $37,808 a day, every day of the year.

Most Americans agree that if you work full time you should not be living in poverty. Today's miserly minimum wage doesn't just impoverish workers, it hurts our economy.

If I don't pay my employees a decent wage, they won't have money to spend at other businesses. And if other businesses don't pay their workers a decent wage, they can't afford to buy my trees, and I can't afford to hire more employees. That's a negative cycle, instead of a positive one.

At 4 Seasons Christmas Tree Farm, our lowest paid employees earn at least $10 an hour and we provide a better product at competitive prices with big box stores. Raising the minimum wage makes good business sense.

A recent national poll shows that 67 percent of small-business owners support increasing the minimum wage and adjusting it yearly to keep pace with the cost of living. The small-business owners were predominately Republican in the poll commissioned by Small Business Majority.

Sixty-five percent of small-business owners in the poll agreed that "Increasing the minimum wage will help the economy, because the people with the lowest incomes are the most likely to spend any pay increases buying necessities they could not afford before, which will boost sales at businesses. This will increase the customer demand that businesses need to retain or hire more employees."

That's right. Increasing the minimum wage will boost the sales that drive employment. And with increased wages, businesses also see lower costly employee turnover, increased productivity and better customer service.

No wonder the most rigorous studies of the impact of actual minimum wage increases show they don't cause job loss, reports Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. For example, the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment compared all neighboring counties (we call them parishes) located on different sides of a state border with different minimum-wage levels between 1990 and 2006 and found no adverse employment effects from higher minimum wages.

There's a proposal in Congress to raise the minimum wage by 95 cents a year for three years to $10.10 an hour, and then adjust it annually to keep up with the cost of living.

If the minimum wage had kept up with the cost of living since 1968, it would already be over $10. In case you're wondering, the unemployment rate was 3.6 percent in 1968 and 3.5 percent in 1969.

When families come to our farm looking for a Christmas tree, they seek out trees that have a strong, full base and are healthy from top to bottom.

Our minimum wage is the base of our economy. If it's weak, our economy will not be healthy.

At the end of "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge doesn't just give Tiny Tim's family a turkey. He gives his father a raise.

Moran is owner and CEO of Caramor Industries, which includes 4 Seasons Christmas Tree Farm, in Natchitoches Parish, La. She is a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.

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