Small Business Owners Worry About Minimum Wage Hike

By Brenda Flanagan

“I do pay $10 an hour, so I’m paying more than minimum wage,” said Leslie Roberson.

Roberson opened JNR Beauty Supplies in Hammonton three months ago. She employs six people part-time but can’t swing $15 an hour.

“Fifteen dollars? I couldn’t survive right now, doing that. Maybe in the future I could, but I’m a new business, so that’d be difficult to do right now,” she said.

Democratic lawmakers who want to push the state’s minimum wage up 80 percent to $15 an hour, would find few takers at this South Jersey Heartland business luncheon on creative marketing, sponsored by the Pascale Sykes Foundation.

“Very difficult. Very, very difficult. I would like to make $15 an hour, myself, as a business owner,” said April Schenk.

“It certainly would have an impact on small and independent owned businesses, for sure. It is a delicate balance, though. Because when you look at the cost of living in New Jersey, in South Jersey, wages are low,” said Jim Donio.

But the managing director of Hammonton’s Eagle Theater says the town’s worked hard to grow its downtown.

Still, most American shop owners see the economic glass as half-empty: the index of small business optimism dropped in January to a two-year low, says the state director of New Jersey’s National Federation of Independent Business.

“We’re concerned about mandated pay leave, minimum wage increase. And it makes them reluctant to do any long-term planning as far as increasing size of the business or hiring new employees,” said Laurie Ehlbeck.

“Sometimes the economic environment isn’t the greatest here, but people love to be here and it’s an opportunity to go out and develop communities, revitalize communities,” said former New Jersey Congressman Jon Runyan.

Runyan’s a glass-half-full kind of guy, but proponents of a $15 per hour minimum wage argue it would help the people who pour the water make ends meet without costing jobs. A recent Stockton poll showed 63 percent of New Jersey residents support the idea of $15 per hour.

“My thought is, if $15 is good, $20 is better,” said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll.

So, Republican Carroll’s proposing a test: raise the minimum wage in five New Jersey counties for five years to $20 an hour. See what happens.

“Those are urban counties with a large number of relatively poor people and which could use the economic boost the left tells us results from minimum wage increases and we should test the theory and see if it works,” Carroll said.

Most business people say in this economy, nobody’s cup runneth over and a $15 per hour minimum wage would drain resources even further.