Should Arizona Raise Minimum Wage?

Workers say 'yes,' but many employers are worried about the bottom line

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Tori Wilbanks said it would be incredible if the state minimum wage was raised to $6.75 an hour.

Wilbanks, a Payson High School senior, now earns less than $6 an hour in her position at Corral West Ranchwear in Payson.

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Tori Wilbanks, a Payson High School senior, now earns less than $6 an hour at Corral West Ranchwear in Payson. She is hoping Arizona voters will choose to raise the minimum wage when it is presented to them on the November ballot.

As the state grapples with raising the minimum wage $1.60 an hour, up from $5.15, numerous Payson workers are applauding the move. Included in the proposed increase are future annual raises based on cost of living adjustments.

In November, Arizona residents will vote on whether the minimum wage should be raised.

Wilbanks said the new wage would help her a lot.

She said she pays for everything she does, including bills for her cellular phone, clothes, gasoline and items for school.

"You have to give your liver to get a tank of gas," she said. "I am excited about (making more money)."

She said if it goes up it would convince more students to start working, because $5 an hour does not go that far.

Angela Brockman, the manager of Corral West, said the majority of her employees earn between $5 and $6 an hour, though most are teenagers.

She said if the wage was to go up to $6.75 an hour, a regular part-time employee working 20 hours a week would earn an additional $30 a week.

Brockman said she would not cut hours or employees, and would instead ask for more money to cover payroll from the district manager.

"I will support it," she said. "People cannot live on it."

Barb Harris, who is in charge of the Community Presbyterian Child Learning Center, normally pays employees with no experience $6 to $6.50 an hour.

"I still think that is a low and crummy wage," she said, but that is what can be afforded. She said if the wages go up, the increased costs will be passed on to the consumer -- in her case, to parents of children in her care.

Jennifer Conrad, who makes $7 an hour working at the childcare center, said every little bit helps.

"I think it's a long time coming, but it is not enough," she said. "It will help a few people, but not a lot."

Tracy Clark, an economist who works the Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University, said there are two ways to look at the minimum wage issue.

Proponents of the increase point to the fact that workers would only have to work one job to be able to pay their bills.

Opponents argue that increasing pay will mean a loss of jobs. Clark said that argument focuses on decreasing the work force in order to be able to afford to pay employees the new wage.

Clark said there is some evidence that small increases do not lead to large unemployment issues, while the same is not true for large increases.

The last time the federal minimum wage was raised was in 1997, increasing from $4.75 an hour to $5.15 an hour.

Barbara Ganz, director of the Payson Regional Economic Center, said employers who pay the minimum are normally fast-food restaurants, filling stations and childcare centers.

Clark said the people who earn this low wage are typically those who are still in school, have little schooling or do not have a trade to fall back on.

"There are not a lot of barriers to do those jobs," he said.

He also said there was a time when companies would pass the increases on to customers, but competition in today's marketplace results in companies eating the increased cost to do business.

He said if minimum wage was to rise to $6.75, some small businesses may close.

Or, more likely, businesses will operate with skeleton crews with the quality of service to customers decreasing.

Large businesses with hundreds of employees will see the largest impact because they need to keep workers to maintain their businesses.

"If they have the ability to raise prices they will probably do so," he said, but most times the increases will come out of the company's profits.

Clark said he would not venture a guess on how this vote will play out in November because there are good arguments on both sides of the issue.

-- To reach Michael Maresh call 474-5251 ext. 112 or e-mail mmaresh@payson.com.

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