Local business leaders react to president's call for higher minimum wage
TYLER, TX (KLTV) -
During Tuesday night's State of the Union, the president asked Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. It's currently $7.25 an hour nationwide.
Two small business owners today offered their take Tuesday on how a raise in the minimum wage would work for their businesses.
It was a bold declaration from the president.
"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 $9.00 an hour," President Obama said in his address to Congress.
A declaration that Longview restauranteur Bob Westbrook says will negatively impact his business.
"At CiCi's pizza, we're a $4.99 buffet. To have a $9 an hour minimum wage will cause us, needless to say, to raise our prices," Westbrook said. "And the last time we had a minimum wage increase, we went from $3.99 to $4.99."
And Westbrook believes that rise in prices will drive customers away.
"Now, instead of hiring more people at a higher wage, now all of a sudden we're looking at cutting staff because the consumer demand for our products is beginning to drop," said Westbrook.
He calls the minimum wage a training wage, an incentive for his new employees to learn and grow in the industry that would be lost with a minimum wage increase.
"Every business, when you raise the minimum wage, now the people that we had at $9.85 an hour, now that gap is less rewarding," said Westbrook.
But some local business owners, like Tyler's Pam Gabriel of Sweet Gourmet, say they already pay all of their employees more than $9.00 an hour.
"We have to kind of budget a little bit here at Sweet Gourmet, but I think the good outweighs the bad. It goes back to you kind of get what you pay for," Gabriel said.
Economic experts say there's also a social argument to providing a higher minimum wage, one Gabriel says she tries to follow as a member of the local business community.
"I think that we all just need to work together and We need to think in our hearts and our minds to help," she said. "And maybe if I can only one person - I don't know, I feel a little bit better. It takes some of the sting out of what all's going on."
But in an economy Westbrook calls fragile, the sting may just be too much.
Any change in the federal minimum wage would have to be passed by Congress.
The last time the minimum wage was changed was in 2009 when it went from $6.55 to $7.25.
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