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The Suburbanite
  • Stark part of minimum wage debate

  • Since the president last week in his State of the Union address called for Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, there has been far more than a minimum amount of debate nationwide and locally on the issue.

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  • Since the president last week in his State of the Union address called for Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, there has been far more than a minimum amount of debate nationwide and locally on the issue.
    President Barack Obama said that raising the minimum wage and then increasing it in future years with inflation would help relieve the financial strains on impoverished families. Those with the lowest incomes would be less dependent on government assistance programs. And they would have more money to spend — boosting local economies.
    Dan Sciury, the president of the Hall of Fame Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO in Canton, echoed Obama’s point.
    “The same people who object to raising the minimum wage all the time are the ones who complain about people being on food stamps and social programs,” Sciury said. “When you raise the minimum wage, you’re really helping to get people off of dependency.”
    “It’s hard for people to make it nowadays,” said retired Timken steelworker Fletcher Pierce, 70, of Canton. “Expenses are to the level that are so high that most people deserve a raise.
    “I think $7 and some an hour is not enough for someone to take care of the family,” said Charles Lee, 48, of Canton.
    FIERCE OPPOSITION
    But opponents say businesses, especially small businesses, couldn’t afford the increased personnel costs. They say it would result in increased prices for goods and services, workers losing hours and even layoffs.
    Tom Seegers, labor policy director for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said a minimum-wage increase would “cost more jobs than it would help” and further make it harder for teens and young people to get work.
    Kent State University Stark student Shaun Wilson, 30, of Canton, said any increases in pay for low-income workers would “crush small businesses” and be offset by the higher prices charged them by those businesses because the employers had to pay the higher wages.
    “Great for average people, but as for a business owner, it screws them,” he said. “Walmart, it’s another way for them to knock out the little guy because they can afford to pay that.”
    Larry Donohue, the co-owner of the Ben Franklin Variety and Frames store in Canton, says his seven part-time employees earn $7.85 to $8 an hour. If he has to pay them an extra $1 to $1.15 an hour, it would hurt his business and the economy.
    “You definitely don’t hire young people. If you have to pay $9 an hour, you‘re looking for someone with experience,” he said. “What it does, you try to eliminate some hours or try to not hire. It has just exactly the opposite effect that (Obama) intends. In the end, I think it creates more unemployment.”
    Page 2 of 3 - His wife, Debbie Donohue, added, “Our prices are going to have to go up. You raise the wage and prices go up. It’s just like a vicious circle. ... you’re going to see a lot of small businesses go out of business if that happens.”
     Sciury countered. “The point is why should the public subsidize this guy’s ability or lack of ability to pay people a decent living wage.”
    ANNUAL INCREASES
    Ohio’s minimum wage has significantly risen during the past decade. In 2006, the federal minimum wage was $5.15 an hour and the state minimum wage was $4.25. But that year, voters approved a labor-backed state constitutional amendment that boosted Ohio’s minimum wage to $6.85 an hour. The rate would automatically rise each year with any increases in the federal consumer price index.
    On Jan. 1, Ohio’s minimum wage for most workers rose to $7.85 an hour. For those working 40 hours a week all year, that’s about $16,300 a year. Those under age 16 and employees of businesses with annual revenue under $288,000 must get at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The minimum for tipped workers is $3.93 an hour, plus tips.
    Because of the mandated annual increases, the state’s minimum wage would eventually reach $9 an hour, but it likely would take several years.
    The U.S. Census estimates that about 14 percent of about 149,000 Stark County households earned less than $15,000 a year.
    TAXPAYERS AFFECTED
    A minimum-wage hike would not just affect private businesses.
    The Stark County District Library’s executive director Tena Wilson said the library system last month gave raises to eight part-time shelvers to comply with the state’s minimum-wage increase. Their salaries rose from $7.70 an hour last year to $7.91. Another seven shelvers earn $8.11 an hour. Meanwhile, 22 substitute workers, many who work less than 10 hours a week, get less than $9 an hour.
    To pay for an increase in the minimum wage, the library would have to find the money somewhere in the budget, cut services, hope for more money from the state or even possibly ask voters for a levy increase.
    With Republicans who oppose a minimum wage increase in control of the U.S. House, the president’s proposal may remain a hypothetical.
    “You have to start somewhere,” said Sciury. “I don’t know if he’ll get $9, but I think there’ll be an increase in the minimum wage.”
    The view from Congress
    U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth: “The fact is mandating businesses spend more money on salary often means they cannot afford to keep all of the workers they currently have. Combined with skyrocketing health care expenses and often razor thin bottom lines, our small businesses in particular should not be expected to absorb yet another cost to how they operate. The end result is often employers laying off employees, something I can tell you from my experience as a small business owner is almost as painful as being let go yourself.”
    Page 3 of 3 - U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, was traveling Friday and unavailable for comment.
    The spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, could not be reached for comment Friday.
    The highest hourly minimum wage in Ohio
       1979    $2.90 (federal)
       1980    $3.10 (federal)
       1981    $3.35 (federal)
       1991    $3.80 (state and federal)
       1992    $4.25 (state and federal)
       1997    $4.75 (federal)
       1998    $5.15 (federal
    2007    $6.85 (state)
    2008    $7.00 (state)
    2010    $7.30 (state)
    2011    $7.40 (state)
    2012    $7.70 (state)
    2013    $7.85 (state)
    Source: U.S. Department of Labor