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Economists Refute Claims Of Campaign Targeted At $15 Minimum Wage Amendment

Laura Pierre
Lynne Sladky
/
AP Photo
Laura Pierre, 19, a fast-food worker, speaks during a protest outside the office of Florida Rep. Carlos Trujillo, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, in Doral, Fla. On the opening day of the Florida legislative session, protestors unveiled their agenda for increasing the minimum wage and pro-immigrant legislation. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Florida’s minimum wage is $8.56, meaning a person working full time would make just under $18,000 a year. Workers making that amount say it’s not a livable wage. Now, Floridians have the chance to decide whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The proposal is on the November ballot. But a new campaign has emerged to stop the proposal from getting through.

Carol Dover heads the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. The group is behind the campaign, “Amendment 2 Hurts You”.

It is a job killer, it will hurt businesses and it will destroy Florida’s economy,” said Dover.

The campaign’s goal is to drive people to the polls to vote against the amendment that would gradually raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026. Dover says it’ll increase businesses payroll by 77%.

“Which will cause our industry to cut jobs, cut benefits. Unfortunately have to turn into more of an automated industry with technology, iPads, kiosks that we’re seeing pop up everywhere,” said Dover. “That’s not who we are, we’re the hospitality industries.”

Dover says the idea of raising the minimum wage is a good one, but putting the proposal into the state’s constitution isn’t the right route.

“The problem with this amendment as you all know once it’s in the constitution its blanket. It’s from Pensacola to Key West and it hits our rural counties the exact same level that it hits Miami Dade,” said Dover. “So this is something that we prefer that the legislature take a look at that we could look at from a fair and balanced manner.”

Advocates have tried for years to get a minimum wage increase but the Florida legislature has balked, hence the effort to place the language into the constitution. Local governments have tried on their own to pass wage increases, but that’s failed in the courts.

“If it’s bad for my business it’s bad for my employee,” said John Horne owns the Anna Maria Oyster Bar in Bradenton.

He sees the amendment as a threat to small businesses like his where two-thirds of his employees receive tips.

“They’re earning two to three times more than minimum wage currently. I can’t imagine this going forward where I would have to cut hours cut shifts it would absolutely affect my family. All these people that worked with me and some for 20 plus years they are family to me,” said Horne.

Christian Cardona is a McDonald’s manager in Orlando. He believes businesses that can’t afford to pay their workers minimum wage shouldn’t exist.

“If you cannot afford to pay your workers a living wage then you’re just exploiting them,” said Cardona. “I make $11 which is barely a dollar more than what regular crew makes.”

He says making ends meet is impossible sometimes.

“The only reason I do is because I live with my parents who also work since their immigrant and they don’t know English like they’re not fluent in English they don’t have a lot of opportunities so they work close to minimum wage,” said Cardona. “The three of us working we can manage to get by.”

Cardona says he wants to be able to take off of work and focus on school so that he could make more money. But he says doing so would put more of a strain on his family.

The fight over the minimum wage has been borne out in places like Seattle, where results have been hard to parse. A long-running study of what has happened in Seattle since then is complex. In the restaurant industry, prices rose and worker hours were cut. In a follow-up study, the University of Washington determined overall worker pay did rise, while they worked the same or fewer hours.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s argument is that a minimum wage hike will hurt rural areas more.

New College of Florida economist Mark Paul has an alternate take:

“I actually think raising the minimum wage in some of these smaller counties will actually have a larger positive effect,” said Paul. “You’ll be able to significantly reduce poverty, and near poverty living standards in those areas which are the biggest problems that a lot of the small, more rural, and more low-income regions of the state are really struggling with.”

In fact, Paul believes boosting the minimum wage will help local businesses.

“There really are two sides to the equation here while it’s true as I mentioned that workers will be receiving more money,” said Paul. “It’s also true that those very same workers are going to be spending more money in the local economy.”

Florida State University Economics Professor Patrick Mason is the Director of African American Studies. He’s done a study in support of the amendment titled “The Public High Cost of Low Wage Employment”. It claims that the state will actually spend less if it raises wages.

“Low wage workers get about $11 billion, at least four years ago, it was $11 billion in public assistance,” said Mason. “Out of $35 billion dollars provided in public assistance provided to the state as a whole.

Still, the prospect of having to pay workers more worries many small business owners who currently face tight margins. Just because a company generates a large amount of revenue, doesn’t mean they have that money just sitting there. And in many industries profits are small. In November, Florida voters get their say. The amendment would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026, a fact the economists say give businesses plenty of time to get ready.