Minimum wage stirs debate Nevada Legislature | NevadaAppeal.com

Minimum wage stirs debate Nevada Legislature

It was dueling statistics Wednesday as backers and opponents of raising the minimum wage debated the merits of a bill that would step that wage up to $15 an hour over the next few years.

Sponsor William McCurdy II, D-Las Vegas, told the Commerce and Labor Committee AB175 would reduce employee turnover, increase productivity and provide workers with a living wage. He and Paul Sonn, general counsel for the Employee Wage Project, said statistics show that concerns raising the wage would cost thousands of jobs and put businesses out of work are wrong and haven't shown up in cities that have raised minimum wages, including Seattle and San Francisco.

But opponents from a number of business organizations and the state's two major chambers of commerce said there are provable job losses in those cities. And a number of businessmen turned out to say they simply can't afford to pay more than the $7.25 an hour current minimum wage in Nevada.

The bill would raise the minimum wage $1.25 an hour each year until it hits $15 an hour — $14 an hour for those businesses that provide health benefits to workers. After that, the wage would be indexed to inflation.

McCurdy said the data he has seen says the vast majority of those workers aren't teens in part-time jobs, that many are older with families to support. He said $7.25 an hour just isn't a livable wage.

"There are hundreds of economists on one side and hundreds on the other," said Warren Hardy representing the restaurant association. "What I know is you put two economists in a room and you'll get three opinions."

Sonn testified there's a "substantial body of research the lion's share when this is gradually phased in as most of these are there is very little effect on employment levels, little adverse effect on jobs."

He said there were some effects on fast food and other restaurants because labor costs are a much greater portion of their overall costs.

Phillip Kaiser, a Washoe County teacher, said many of the teens he teaches are "helping keep their families afloat through minimum wage jobs."

And he argued all taxpayers are subsidizing minimum wage workers who have to use public support programs ranging from food stamps to welfare and Medicaid.

Megan Lewis of Reno said when her mother left her at age 15, she had to "couch hop" and work at minimum wage jobs, leaving school to earn a GED while working overtime. She said many of those homeless in Reno have jobs and work 40 hours a week and "should not have to live in poverty."

"Those jobs are not paying them enough to survive," she said.

Opponents charged raising minimum wage rates kills jobs.

Elliot Malin of Americans for Prosperity Nevada said just 2.5 percent of Nevada's working population over age 16 earns minimum wages. He said half of minimum wage earners are under 25.

Paul Maratkin of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Chamber said the bill doesn't even consider associated costs including higher Modified Business Taxes, unemployment compensation and worker's comp payments businesses would have to pay. And Bryan Wachter of the Nevada Retail Association said contrary to what supporters say, Seattle lost thousands of jobs because of its $15 an hour minimum wage rate. He said many companies simply moved out of the Seattle city limits to avoid the higher wages.

After restaurant officials said they often work on just a percent or two profit margin, Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said she has been in the restaurant business some 30 years and those numbers don't hold up. She said one major restaurant chain she declined to name charges just one penny less for an order of chicken wings in a state where the minimum is $2.13 an hour than it does in Nevada where the minimum is $7.25 an hour.

The committee took no action on AB175.