The federal minimum wage will jump 70 cents to $7.25 an hour today, but businesses around Lee and Collier counties say the increase will have little or no affect on their day-to-day operations.
Mary Waller, accountant for Ristorante D’Angeli on Fifth Avenue South in Naples, said the hike wouldn’t affect the eatery’s hiring practices.
“The only people it would affect is the servers, and since it’s summer in Naples, we’re already down to the bare minimum of servers, anyway,” Waller said.
“It’s not going to affect us – at least not so that you would notice it.”
Waller said the impact of the increase likely wouldn’t be noticeable in season, either.
“It’s like when they raise the price on water,” she said. “When it happens, you just go along with it.”
Ralph Desiano, CEO and founder of Naples Flatbread & Wine Bar on Naples Boulevard, said the wage increase was unlikely to affect his business, either.
“We pay all of our non-tipped employees above minimum wage right now, so from a non-server standpoint it’s going to have no impact at all,” Desiano said.
“We feel it’s important to have top-quality people, so we pay them accordingly. From a server standpoint, I think it’s going to cost us another 4 cents (an hour) in addition to their base pay, so that’s not a big deal, either.”
Desiano said he wasn’t sure how the increase might affect other businesses.
“I may be in a unique position, but this isn’t something we have to worry about at all,” he said.
Mary Frangie, who owns Home Health Care, Inc., on Golden Gate Parkway, said she thinks the federal minimum wage is still too low even with the increase to $7.25 an hour.
“How can anybody live on that?” Frangie asked. “It should be much higher. We pay our people very well, and we pay half of their insurance, which really puts a hurting on us, but we feel morally bound to do it.”
Frangie said that stance only makes sense from a business standpoint.
“Let’s face it, the employees are the company,” she said. “I feel bad for anyone out there who has to work for minimum wage. “When I see people like that out there, I think, my gosh, how do they provide for their families?”
On Thursday, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said her office is working to ensure workers receive their legally mandated compensation in conjunction with the minimum wage increase.
Speaking from Washington, D.C., during a conference call with U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., Solis said $82 million had been recovered so far for 107,000 workers as part of a wage-recovery act implemented by President Barack Obama.
“It’s part of the president’s plan to fortify the economy and the work force,” Solis said. “So many people have not been paid the minimum wage, and we want to rectify that.”
Solis said the federal government has set aside more than $700 million to provide job training to minimum-wage workers.
“We’re offering training because there’s been a shift in the economy away from manufacturing and service jobs to health care and ‘green’ jobs,” she said.
“Hopefully, we can recruit minimum-wage workers and give them a path to new and better jobs – jobs that will stay in the U.S.” Solis said the training programs underscore Obama’s commitment to turning the economy around.
“We’re really taking the bull by the horns here and making an investment in our workers so they can provide for and sustain their families, while also helping cut off our dependence on foreign oil,” she said of the $500 million set aside for “green job” training.
Miller scoffed at the notion that a higher minimum wage actually hurts businesses by leading to a decline in hiring.
“That evidence isn’t solid,” he said. “The fact is that a higher minimum wage puts more money into people’s pockets, and they in turn put more money into the economy with their spending. That argument is made year after year, but there are many studies that refute it.”
Solis cited a recent study done by the University of California-Berkeley to back up that assertion.
“A higher minimum wage does not lead to job loss,” she said. “The study found that people spend that extra money, that disposable income that’s so sorely needed, on utility bills, putting food on the table and buying school supplies. This (hike) will really improve and stimulate the economy.”
Solis said Congress would continue to debate a further minimum-wage hike.
“An increase every 10 years is unacceptable,” she said.
At Bourbon Street Bar & Grill in Estero, workers hardly batted an eye at news of the increased minimum wage. Server Stephanie McClure of Bonita Springs said her base pay is $4.20 an hour, but tips more than make up for the shortfall.
“I’ve never had a job where I made under minimum wage – it’s never happened,” she said.
Bourbon Street cook Francis Connell said tips are the main reason for that.
“Sometimes servers will pile up four or five paychecks before cashing them because most of their money comes from tips,” said Connell, who makes $10 an hour.
Former Bourbon Street server Carole Butler expanded on that line of thought.
“Some of those paychecks are only $40, $50, $60, so I think it’s important that people always tip a minimum of 20 percent,” she said.
“If the service (is poor), then tip 10 percent, but please try to remember that we’re not paying the bills with our looks.”
Older workers will especially benefit from the increased minimum wage, according to a study done by the Senior Community Service Employment Program, a national, nonprofit program funded under the Older Americans Act.
According to the study, the number of older workers needing additional income continues to rise, with 64 percent of older workers citing financial need as the reason they continue working.
The study also found that the number of low-income, older people at risk for homelessness has increased 140 percent since January 2008; unemployment among job-seekers 75 and older has increased 100 percent since June 2008; and unemployment among people 55 and older has increased 115 percent in the past year.
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E-mail John Osborne at email@example.com.