John Shepley: Raising minimum wage makes business sense
As a small business owner, I support increasing Maryland's inadequate minimum wage because it makes good business sense. It's important for our economic recovery and progress.
Opponents of raising the minimum wage claim it's not the right time because the economy is weak. What they don't want you to remember is that for them the time is never right. In 2005, they opposed a raise in Maryland's minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15. And they opposed federal legislation to raise the minimum wage in 1996, during the longest economic expansion in our nation's history. The president of the Maryland Retailers Association in 1996 cut to the chase when he said about their opposition, "A lot of it's philosophical."
Let me cut to the chase: If my business, a small nursery in rural Harford County, can profit and grow when paying a wage people can thrive on, then there's no reason any viable business cannot do so. Unless, that is, their philosophy is getting in the way of good business sense.
Claims that a higher minimum wage will cost jobs and hurt our economy are rubbish. The real hard evidence, such as a comprehensive study published in the November 2010 Review of Economics and Statistics, shows minimum wage increases do not increase unemployment.
Businesses that pay lower wages almost always have higher turnover. Instead of paying adequate wages, the owners are paying to recruit and train new workers who aren't as productive as a more stable work force.
I challenge anyone who thinks the minimum wage shouldn't be raised to try living on it. The minimum wage in Maryland is now just $7.25 an hour, or $15,080 for full-time, year-round work.
Today's minimum wage has far less buying power than it had in the 1960s, weakening the consumer demand at the heart of our local economy. People at the lower end of earnings tend to spend 100 percent of their after-tax income. They put it right back into local businesses, buying food, clothing, car repairs and other necessities. That money spent locally adds more jobs, boosts our economy and broadens our sales and income tax base.
How is it good for Maryland taxpayers to have a minimum wage so low it increases the strain on our social safety net? Many states have reported on the public health care burden from underpaid employees of big national retailers. Massachusetts, for example, found that in 2009, Wal-Mart had more than 5,000 employees plus dependents receiving public health coverage at a cost to taxpayers conservatively measured at $16.6 million.
The Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, made up of local and independent businesses, has signed the Business for a Fair Minimum Wage statement in support of gradually raising Maryland's minimum wage to $9.75 by 2013. Raising the minimum wage will move us toward a more stable and sustainable economy.
John Shepley is co-owner of Emory Knoll Farms Inc., a wholesale nursery in Harford County. He is also chairman of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, made up of local, independent and sustainable businesses in Maryland.