Federal minimum wage debate comes to Indianapolis

The President is pushing for an increase in the minimum wage and on Wednesday, a member of his cabinet asked Indianapolis residents for help selling it to Congress.

Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris held a roundtable discussion at the John H. Boner Community Center in Indianapolis, to provide details about the President’s plan and to listen to stories from employees that he could take back to Washington.

“Really, what I want to do more than anything else is hear from you,” Harris said to the crowd, which consisted of several residents who make less than $9 an hour.

Casey Foley’s said he’s been struggling to make more than minimum wage ever since health complications forced him to close his own business several years ago. He said he lost everything and, despite working full-time once again, still can’t keep up.

“It’s hard work being poor because where do I go to get that extra income?” Foley said. “There’s only so many hours in a day.”

At the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, a full-time employee will make $14,500 a year. The president wants to increase it to $9 an hour, which would raise annual income to $18,000 a year. Harris said the change would impact 15 million Americans.

“341,000 workers here in Indiana would benefit from the increase in the minimum wage,” Harris said.

“I’d be very happy to see it,” Foley said. “Not only for people like me but for people that are entering the workforce and need, not the minimum wage job, they need an opportunity job.”

But some business owners are worried it will cost them opportunities to add jobs. The owner of The Meat Shop in Indianapolis said he pays above the current minimum wage and supports a smaller increase, but if it goes to $9, he said his plans to open a new store will be in jeopardy.

“That’s going to slow expansion since it’s going to cost us a little more to pay our employees,” Miller said. “We’ll have to look at other ways or down the road farther.”

“It may be that this business man that you’ve been talking to is actually going to be able to expand because he’ll have more customers,” Harris said. “That’s what we’re going to find out over the course of time, but our experience has been that you don’t lose jobs. Instead, you help families, you help the economy to grow and you do the right thing.”