Effects of minimum wage to be felt, especially in Georgia
Time is money â€" thatâ€™s an adage thatâ€™s been thrown around by ambitious businessmen for years, but after recent developments, time is going to mean a lot more money for low-wage workers around the country.
The minimum wage, which has been holding steady at $5.15 since itâ€™s last increase in 1997, made a 70 cent jump to $5.85 on July 24. The increase is the first of three wage hikes that will go into effect every July 24 until finally landing at $7.25 in the summer of 2009.Â
Georgia, which has a broader base of low-wage workers than other states, is one of the states that has not already implemented a minimum wage increase. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia claims 2.7 percent of the nationâ€™s workforce, but represents 3.4 percent of minimum wage workers. In 2005, 66,000 workers toiled for at or below minimum wage, and those who are full-time employees will be seeing nearly 1,500 extra dollars go into their pockets thanks to this yearâ€™s wage increase.Â
Opponents of the plan, however, say that it will throw a heavy burden on small businesses, who may not be able to afford the extra expense. While the rate hike wonâ€™t affect a large proportion of employees or businesses this year, the eventual increase will expand the salaries of employees in most service and manufacturing industries as well as in the retail sector.Â
â€œOur labor payroll will go up,â€� said Jennifer Newell, spokesperson for Amici Italian CafÃ©, whose headquarters are located in Madison. According to Newell, around 50 of the companyâ€™s workers will benefit from this yearâ€™s increase, but a much greater proportion of their around 200 employees paychecks will be boosted in the coming years before the minimum wage reaches its final resting place.Â
Some businesses have been planning ahead, hiking their own pay rates before the government raises it for them in an effort to get more time to offset the increasing costs. Many small businesses are not following that trend, however, and Amici is among them.Â
â€œWeâ€™re just going to wait until they come around,â€� said Newell of the upcoming increases.Â
But after all is said and done, just how much will raising the minimum wage really matter? By the end of the increase phases in 2009, minimum-wage workers will be pulling down an extra $4,368 a year. Thatâ€™s enough to buy 1,400 lattes, a 10 percent down payment on a Hummer H2, two new computers, half a yearâ€™s rent in an average, two-bedroom apartment or over 6,000 cans of tomato soup â€" among many other things.Â
But some economists are fearful that, in the long run, this rate hike will hurt more than it will help. Many small businesses, are already coping with trying to provide healthcare plans for their employees, a service that is dwindling among small businesses. Opponents claim that the new wage mandate will force others to drop their health insurance or even close altogether.Â
According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 80 percent of Georgiaâ€™s small businesses oppose an increase in the minimum wage, which may explain why Georgia wasnâ€™t among the states upping their pay rates before the idea went federal.
However, thanks to Congress, the extra money is here to stay, and for low-wage workers, it means that their time will soon be worth more than ever before â€" by 2009, up to 12 cents per minute â€" and whether thatâ€™s good news or not remains to be seen.Â