By Megan Hogan
I would just like to respond to Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler’s opinion piece in the June 26 issue of Tompkins Weekly, “The Republican View: Minimum Wage Change Would Have Negative Consequences.”
I believe the article was written well and it hit on a lot of the same concerns I had when I first learned about living wage. The only difference is I was living in one of the poorest counties in New York state (Broome) and I thought if people are already struggling and we raise the minimum wage we would just be raising the cost of living so more people would begin to struggle, but I was wrong.
Tompkins County is infamous for its resources, the different parks, falls, gorges, the beautiful Commons (which we put so much money into maintaining), three colleges in one county, and we are a tourist attraction, so the cost of living here is already very high.
We live in a community where landlords are making their money off college students while local community members struggle to find affordable places to live; where local stores and business owners have to pay crazy prices to rent out spaces that will be on the main path for tourists; where we look past the homeless population and turn our heads to pan handlers.
So I guess this raises two questions for me: First, what would hurt by raising our minimum wage to a living wage? And, second, why do we believe in investing a ton of money into places and things, but don’t believe in investing money into local business owners and their employees?
For every article and research you have read that explains how it will ruin businesses or the cost of living will substantially go up, I could match each one with an article that is saying the complete opposite. I’ve also talked to local employers who believe in a living wage who have many different opinions and reasons for being Living Wage Employers and why it is important. One owner correlated burnout and turnover with employees who are disgruntled from being stressed or underpaid. With a living wage they are less stressed about money, feel more appreciated for their work and, in return, the employer doesn’t get the turnover and there is better work output. Another employer explained she pays living wage and keeps a smaller staff. She knows that creates a bigger workload for the employees, but also tries to make up for it and fights for funding to have their health insurance paid for, have more flexibility with time off and holidays.
I know entrepreneurs who started out with their first employees making living wage and taking pride in that. When you spend that amount of money and hard work into selling or creating a product for people to buy, you want people who are going to be trained in making it and who are going to take just as much pride as you do in your work. You aren’t going to want to bring in individuals who are underpaid, overworked and not appreciated for their work. If you have a large turnover rate due to employees feeling like that, you will be spending time and money on retraining employee after employee, which is a waste of time, money and energy that could be used toward something else.
Lastly, one thing that seems to be continuously left out of these discussions is the fact that our minimum wage hasn’t even kept up with the rate of inflation. So we discuss Living Wage as it’s this huge monster that is stealing our money while we sleep, but if minimum wage rose as it was supposed to with the rate of inflation, it would be higher than what Tompkins County is asking Living Wage to be. By saying living wage incentivizes people to leave high school, we’re overlooking the jobs of parents, educators, etc. to instill the importance of education to young adults. Besides, you can’t afford a degree on minimum wage.
We aren’t asking for employers and businesses to dish out thousands more dollars so everyone can live an overly comfortable life with a nice car and three-bedroom house, we’re asking for employers and businesses to pay employees enough to get by, to maybe make the difference between an employee getting food stamps to being able to get off assistance, to maybe help clients with better housing where they can have their own bathroom and kitchen they aren’t sharing with five other strangers.
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Megan Hogan is a Client Service Worker for Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources of Tompkins County, a non-profit organization that supports the living wage campaign for its employees as well as its clients.