The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Why these 10 business owners are eager to pay their employees more

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A worker carries shoe boxes on opening day of the new Nordstrom Rack store May 11, 2010 in New York City. The 32,000-square-foot basement discount store in Manhattan's Union Square is Nordstrom's first store in New York City. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

10 employers, large and small, make the business case for raising the US minimum wage.

Mary Babic is the Communications Officer of Oxfam America’s United States Regional Office.

Maybe you’ve heard this one before: Raising the US minimum wage would harm our economy by placing too much of a burden on business owners, especially small-business owners.

It sounds convincing. But it’s just not true.

Tyree Johnson, a 20-year McDonald’s employee making minimum wage, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

In fact raising the wage is actually good for business, and for our economy. Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would pump $32 billion in additional income into the economy (creating demand for basic goods and services), it would reduce turnover, and it would contribute to a work force that’s more stable and more productive.

As Holly Sklar, Executive Director of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage puts it, “Remember that workers are also consumers – and businesses need customers who can afford what they are selling. Today’s $7.25 minimum wage has less buying power than it had in 1950 and a third less than in 1968, adjusted for inflation. We cannot build a strong economy on a falling wage floor.”

Below, 10 owners of business large and small share why they agree:

1. As a business owner, I relish good math, and the math of raising the minimum wage results in positive growth for local businesses like mine. The average worker earning under $10.10 now would earn $1,300 more a year with a minimum wage raise. That money would allow a worker to buy necessities for their family, including protecting their family’s future. The math works for everyone.”

David Hausman, Owner, Hausman Agency, Bluebell, PA

2. It’s high time we had a decent living standard for everybody who works. If that’s not the American Dream, what is? The investment we make by paying our employees a living wage always comes back to benefit our business.”

Dick Hermans, Owner, Oblong Books & Music, Millerton and Rhinebeck, NY

3. “An important reason for the success of Costco’s business model is the attraction and retention of great employees. Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.

Craig Jelinek, President and CEO, Costco

4. “It takes a lot of time to train people. You want to make sure you’re paying a very good wage, otherwise you have a lot of turnover. People need to be paid a fair wage.”

John Gainor, CEO, Dairy Queen

5. “We’ve been in business for 30 years and paying higher wages has always helped us to have wonderful and loyal staff. A higher wage eliminates costly turnover and retraining and helps ensure that people stay with you and develop strong relationships with your customers. We are also interested in the health of the Spokane economy. If people are struggling, they are not able to engage in the local economy at a level that supports local businesses and allows our economy to thrive.”

Denise Attwood, Co-owner, Ganesh Himal Trading LLC, Spokane, WA

6. “For every employee I pay a fair wage, another business gets a potential good customer… Raising the wage is a win/win for business and workers.”

Matt Henderson, Owner, Henderson Agency, Tampa, FL (and other locations)

7. “At least 29 percent of workers in the Bakersfield area would benefit from a minimum wage increase. My business sense tells me that workers aren’t going to use that money to speculate on Wall Street or put it in some offshore tax haven. They will be buying goods and services in Bakersfield at local businesses like mine. Businesses, workers and families will all win from raising the minimum wage.”

Cindy Furer, Owner, Furer & Whittinghill Agency, Bakersfield and San Diego, CA

8. “How can you expect your employees to be focused on taking care of your customers when they are struggling to make rent? Raising the minimum wage will increase productivity, reduce turnover and boost business and our economy by putting more money in the paychecks of workers who most need it.

Sherry Stewart Deutschmann, CEO and Owner of Letter Logic in Nashville, Tennessee

9. The minimum wage sets a floor under worker wages, and wages, in turn, supply the consumer purchasing power that is vital to business. Our tax base would be sounder and our social safety net less stressed with a higher minimum wage.”

Jim Wellehan, Owner and President of Lamey-Wellehan Shoes in Auburn, Maine

10. “Too many people forget that the lower the wage, the higher the turnover, which costs businesses time and money in recruiting and training new workers. We raised our minimum wage to $10.10 without raising prices, knowing that employees who can make ends meet stay longer and are more productive. It’s a win-win when employees can concentrate on serving customers, without worrying about how they are going to make rent or put food on their own table.”

Chris Sommers, Co-Owner of Euclid Hospitality Group, including Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis, Missouri, and Washington, DC

These 10 aren’t the only ones. Business owners and executives and business organizations across the nation realize the benefits of an increase, and are signing the Business For a Fair Minimum Wage Statement. The 1,000 signers range from leading brands like Costco, Eileen Fisher, Dansko footwear, Ben & Jerry’s, New Belgium Brewing, and Seventh Generation; to smaller businesses like Uncommon Goods, Zingerman’s, Lamey-Wellehan Shoes; to business organizations like the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce and the American Sustainable Business Council (which represents more than 200,000 businesses).

Many of these businesses are standing up and speaking out about the urgent need to raise the wage – because they know it’s both a decent and smart thing to do.

See our map about the concentrations of low-wage workers in Congressional districts in America; and our report on Working Poor in America.

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