How much would your life change if minimum wage increased from $7.25 to $9 an hour?
The question is floating around Richmond County’s workforce since the increase was brought up by President Barack Obama during his recent State of the Union address.
“Tonight, let’s declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty — and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour,” said Obama, followed by applause.
Walt J. Wessels, an economics professor at North Carolina State University and researcher of labor economics, said raising minimum wage isn’t a good plan.
“I think it’s a bad move,” said Wessels. “It would reduce employment for people who can’t produce $9 an hour. Some employers can offset the wage by making their employees work harder.”
According to Wessels, Obama’s proposed increase would be a 20 percent increase, and that it would result in fewer teenagers being employed.
“People favor the minimum wage increase because they want to earn a decent living,” said Wessels. “But why should employers have to pay for it?”
Along with employers, an increase in minimum wage would also cost Richmond County and its taxpayers as well, according to Richmond County Manager and Economic Developer Rick Sago.
“Richmond County has quite a few part-time employees that make minimum wage, so certainly any raise in the minimum wage would cost the county — and ultimately the taxpayers — additional money for wages,” said Sago. “The easiest area to quantify this would be for the operation of our Solid Waste Convenience sites. The cost to the Solid Waste Department for the proposed increase in minimum wage would be approximately $45,000 per year. Obviously this is a significant increase and would probably result in the county having to raise the yearly solid waste fee for our taxpayers.”
Increasing minimum wage would also impact large events in Richmond County, according to Rockingham Dragway owner Steve Earwood.
“Increasing minimum wage would limit the folks I could hire for large events like the one I have coming up in a week,” said Earwood. “I hire parkers and concessions people and it comes to around 80 to 100 people. If minimum wage goes up, I have to reduce that by 25 percent … .”
Earwood said he has five full-time staff members that make more than minimum wage, but he hires part-time staff each weekend for drag racing events. According to Earwood, the Rockingham Dragway hosted 94 events last year.
“We pay more than minimum wage but if it went to $9 our industry would suffer like everyone else, and that’s an impact I’m not prepared to swallow,” said Earwood. “The federal government is getting more and more involved in small businesses and it squeezes us out.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.