It seems as if lawmakers in Harrisburg have quickly forgotten about steps taken by the Wolf administration during the COVID-19 pandemic that crippled many of Pennsylvania’s small businesses and ultimately forced far too many to close their doors entirely. Right now, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is debating another move that could once again crush the commonwealth’s greatest job creators — a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.
As a small business owner, it has been difficult to listen to the tone-deaf arguments of those who support raising the minimum wage. The reality is that many of these supporters have never signed the front of a paycheck, let alone run a business. It’s time for lawmakers to stop placing obstacles in the way of Pennsylvania’s small business owners still trying to survive in an uncertain economy borne from the pandemic, which also has led to record-high inflation.
Sadly, my wife, Tracey, and I speak from experience on this issue. Prior to the pandemic and the draconian unilateral measures taken by the Wolf administration, Tracey owned a female fitness center. Through hard work, she built a small business that provided 50 jobs and a membership roll that reached as high as 1,000. Then the lockdowns and government mandates came.
Within the first year that these unprecedented measures were implemented by the unwieldy Wolf administration, my wife’s small business lost more than half of its members. She tried everything to make changes in a new post-pandemic world, offering virtual and smaller classes. But it was never the same. She was forced to shut her doors in October 2021.
Just like that, everything she and her team had worked for was gone. The truth is this didn’t have to happen. The government overreached with its mandates, killing small businesses in the process. And they’re poised to do it again with the minimum wage.
A new study published by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) found an increase in the minimum wage to $15 would decimate small businesses, leading them to lose $7 billion and 57,000 jobs over the next decade.
We don’t argue against workers obtaining consistent housing and resources for themselves and their families. However, mandating a wage increase will not breach that gap. Supporters of a minimum wage increase in Pennsylvania will tell you that it will lift people out of poverty. The reality is that the government forcing business owners to give a “wage increase” will, in short order, be nullified by the inevitable increase in costs to the consumer.
Supporters of this bill are not looking at the downstream negative impact a minimum wage hike will have on small businesses. The current $15-per-hour employee who has been working for a company for several years is earning this wage because of merit, experience and increased skills. Naturally, new employees receiving the same wage will lead to existing ones wanting more. Ultimately, this will cost small businesses millions of dollars — or they’re going to cut hours.
The marketplace has already moved the needle on wages in Pennsylvania. We don’t need our state government interfering with how we run our businesses. If the proposed minimum wage increase is signed into law, the economy will adjust as it relates to wage earners. But small, local business owners will be driven out of the market. Raising the minimum wage threatens to put thousands of small businesses across Pennsylvania out of business.
My wife and I know firsthand how government mandates, shutdowns and overreach can crush a small business and the livelihoods of the owners and their employees. Quite simply, government needs to stay out of the way of small businesses. Let the marketplace determine the wage rates and let small business owners run their businesses.
Jeff Wakeen is co-founder of the Go Big Small Biz Network, which provides advocacy, education and communication for Pennsylvania small businesses. For more information, see: gobigsmallbiz.com.