Putting the Spin on the Minimum Wage Increase

Let’s assume you were trying to secure passage of a major tax increase.  You would want to verbally minimize the effect of the increase in order to head off opposition.

That is exactly what proponents of the proposed minimum wage increase in Los Angeles are doing.  Two hearings have already occurred where they have turned out large numbers and offered information that paints an incomplete picture. (We have a chance to correct that at the remaining two hearings detailed at the bottom of this blog!)

Proponents have ignored the wage increase that has already occurred, which conveniently makes the impact of the current proposal seem less.  As you may recall, the State of California raised the minimum wage from $8 to $9, just last year.  Although proponents may accurately say that they weren’t responsible for that increase, it still needs to be taken into consideration when you discuss what the current proposal would do to businesses.

The fact is that over a four-year period, businesses will be asked to absorb a whopping 66 percent increase in the minimum wage.  And that doesn’t even consider the ancillary costs tied to the wage rate that will be triggered by an increase, including additional Social Security, Workers Comp insurance rates, unemployment insurance fees, etc.

The City hired a consultant who has put a positive “spin” on the impacts.  That is what we have seen in the two studies performed by the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics from UC Berkeley.  In their most recent report, just released last week, they “estimate that firms’ operating costs will increase by only 0.5 percent by 2017 and 0.9 percent by 2019 as a result of the proposed law.”  They go on to say that these are cumulative estimates and will be spread out over several years, thereby implying that this increase can be implemented virtually pain free.

But think about it for a moment … how can the minimum wage rise by 66 percent with only a .5 percent increase in operating costs?  That just begs believability. The only way such a conclusion can be drawn is to throw into the calculations all of the businesses in Los Angeles and all of the jobs that are already paying above the minimum wage.

The 0.5 percent figure is therefore virtually meaningless, because it is not measuring the effect on the businesses with large numbers of minimum wage workers.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has just completed a study of our members, asking how the proposed increase will impact their individual businesses.  The majority of our members are small businesses, and I believe the results of our study are a much more accurate measure of the effect of the proposed increases.

A total of 35 percent of our members, mostly small businesses, believe that the proposed increase will affect their operations negatively.  These are businesses that actually employ minimum wage workers.  They estimate that their total operating costs will increase by 21 percent and that their profit margins will decline by about 9 percent.

That 9 percent decline in profits is significant because for many businesses that may be the margin between profitability and operating in the red.  Fifty-five percent of our impacted members tell us that they anticipate having to either reduce employee hours or lay off employees to compensate for the increase. Another 25 percent believe the proposed wage increase may force them to close their businesses.

However, the Berkeley study estimates that we will actually see an increase in jobs, because minimum wage workers are expected to spend most of their increased earnings.  Due to the multiplier effect, they are projecting a net gain of 3,666 jobs by 2017 and 5,262 by 2019, thereby countering any losses at existing businesses.

Is this a realistic scenario?  I don’t think so.  Data is beginning to emerge in cities that have already adopted increased minimum wages that would cast doubt on that assessment.  In my next blog, I will share with you some of that information.

In the meantime, let me encourage you to attend the last two community hearings that the City is conducting next week.  If you believe your business will be negatively impacted, you must attend and share your experiences if we are to have any chance of getting some sort of relief for small businesses and non-profit organizations incorporated in the final version that is passed.   The two hearings will both be at 6 p.m. They are at:

Van Nuys City Hall, 14410 Sylvan Street, Tuesday, March 31
Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Thursday, April 2

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 22 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

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