Business, government chaperone minimum wage


Politics typically gets in the way of most progress, but as the old saying goes, “it may not be a perfect system, but it’s the only one we got.”

The Raise the Wage committee that’s been pushing the Lee County Board of Supervisors to consider an incremental 95 cent wage increase has its heart in the right place. Looking out for other people’s hearts, but it really is a moot point. This legislature is pushing their agenda with an ease and efficiency rarely seen before, but leaving in its wake a yet unwritten tale of where the Republican party lands.

But, as has been part of the discussion, since the inception of the committee, most businesses aren’t paying minimum wage. As a former restaurant manager I know how that works first hand. There are some heavy considerations to make and you have to really know your subjects.

About 10 years ago, I had a shift supervisor I was looking at promoting to a salaried management position. More hours and responsibility for sure, but a better financial situation for her, also to be sure.

I offered the woman the promotion, she had a daughter at home, she declined. Not because of child care or the increased responsibility, hours, but because of the increase in wage.

Putting her at a salaried position increased her income too much. “I’ll lose my food stamps.” she said.

I didn’t know what to say to that. I just moved on. But I thought about how to react. Our family was on federal aid when I was a young child. But my mother worked hard to get us out of the position. Sometimes working two jobs so she could provide for us. That’s how I was brought up. You work hard for what you want and sometimes you make sacrifices.

But if there are people who refuse to make a sacrifice to better the grasp of their own finances, then the government maybe needs to take a different tact.

It’s really up to the businesses to value their employees enough to want to keep them around. It’s always been my experience, and this isn’t my philosophy, I stole it from someone, but it escapes me at this point who that someone was, that you train your people well enough to work for anyone, but you treat them well enough that they don’t want to.

That includes a decent wage. Even the fast food places are starting higher than minimum wage, and if not right away, typically within 90 days. They have to be competitive to hold onto employees. A $7.25 employee can go anywhere and make $7.25 so that market influence should be pushing people’s wages up.

The government wants a higher minimum in most cases because it puts more money in the coffers from payroll tax. They’re willing to swipe aside the fact that the increased wage results in increased prices because the ownership is going to pass it on. They pass it on to customers, clients and families.

We have to look at how hard people are willing to work and what they are and aren’t willing to do to better themselves. Fort Madison City Councilman Rusty Andrews was right when he said that some people just want to do those low wage jobs. And they are comfortable receiving the state aid.

That scenario has to be considered, especially when there are higher paying jobs available in the area.

But, that being said, everyone would agree that $7.25, and according to Lee County supervisors Matt Pflug and Don Hunold, who both sit on the committee, even $8.20 isn’t a workable wage.

I’m not sure what the answer is. If you see a state increase, then the state probably needs a sliding scale on benefits to help keep people from falling off, well, the cliff.

A word that Hunold used to describe how when increasing wages, without a sliding benefit scale from the state, you risk hurting people financially who now make too much money to qualify for aid. But the loss in aid is more than the increase in the wage and now they are worse off than they were before the increase.

Either way, it’s pretty clear that the local movement will be a moot point as the House bill was approved and the Iowa Senate will be taking it up this week, but Sen. Rich Taylor says the Senate has the numbers to pass it.

So if that’s the course we’re headed, it’s going to be a couple years before the course even has a chance of being corrected.

I guess, in the absence of companies stepping up, we get to hang on for a while.



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