MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE: Career ladder tumbles when there is no first step

Those who remember their first job remember the lessons learned and the skills gained.

Without that opportunity, we wouldn’t have appreciated the next job, the next boss or understood the education needed for our future career path. Entry-level jobs are crucial for life skills, and that “first job” experience helped all of us develop a stronger work ethic, interpersonal skills, dependability and reliability.

Some say these softer skills are lacking when teens and individuals refuse to work or don’t have that first-time opportunity to work.

That is what entry-level and yes—minimum wage jobs are all about!

Because the minimum wage applies to only a small percentage of the population doesn’t mean that its effects aren’t

Leishman, Carrie by AROYAL PHOTOGRAPHY 1 302 438 130.

Carrie Leishman

significant. Most employees begin their careers at minimum wage jobs before quickly being promoted to earn more. If these entry-level positions become more difficult to obtain because of higher wage floors, some people may never have the opportunity to get the skills and training necessary to earn more than the minimum wage.

Proponents of ongoing minimum wage hikes try and convince audiences that minimum wage workers are all “single mothers raising families” which is simply not true. In fact, the average family income of a beneficiary of a minimum wage hike to $10.25 an hour is $50,662 — well above the poverty level.

Well over half — nearly 57 percent — are either living at home with a parent or have a working spouse. In reality, less than 10 percent of minimum wage workers are actually single parents of children.

Sen. Bobby Marshall’s first attempt this session to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour was met with harsh criticism from those hiring at the first step of the ladder. He could not rally support for the $30,000 a year entry-level wage and with good reason. The proposal was pushed back hardest from not only the restaurant community but also those small businesses that hire low-skilled and first time workers.

Even more startling to members of the Senate was the intense opposition by Delaware’s family-owned farms who hire seasonal workers to help keep their narrow-margin businesses running and food on our tables.

Support crumbled and the $15 wage was stricken to a seemingly more palatable wage proposal of $10.25 an hour. This new 25 percent increase over the current $8.25 an hour training wage is still hard for our family farms and local businesses to absorb.

Increasing the minimum wage would be unfair to the lowest skilled and the underemployed. Small companies may not go out of business but many who testified in the Senate spoke of fewer workers hired, more part-time positions and automation of business. One only needs to look at grocery stores and convenience stores to notice the beginning of automation to replace low-skilled workers.

The last thing Delaware can afford are policies that hollow out the job market and put our most vulnerable citizens at risk.

It’s been rough for Delaware in the last few months. With violent crime in Wilmington at its most severe — prompting a Newsweek article to dub Wilmington as “Murder Town USA as well as the gut-punch from the announcement of DuPont layoffs, Delaware legislators should look for more prudent strategies to increase education and increase employment for Delawareans so desperately in need of opportunity.

Carrie Leishman is president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association.

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