Businesses get ‘Bacon Award’ for paying more than minimum wage


Julie Larson (center) shows her support for business owners Pam Hausner and Jeremy Neff of Kansas City, Mo. who were honored with “Bacon Awards” for paying their employees more than the minimum wage. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Two small business owners who decided it was only fair to pay their employees more than the minimum wage were given “Bacon Awards” in a sidewalk ceremony Wednesday by Organizing for Action – Missouri, a nonpartisan social advocacy group.

Supporters gathered in Kansas City’s charming Brookside neighborhood to honor Pam Hausner, owner of Big Vision Media Group, a small marketing agency and certified B corporation, and Jeremy Neff, who with his wife Stacy owns One More Cup, a socially-conscious coffee shop. Both were presented with “bacon bouquets.”

“A business owner should look at the triple bottom line — people, planet and profit,” Hausner said. She pointed out that half of those making minimum wage are “adults with fully realized adult responsibilities.” That adds up to 1.6 million working adults making minimum wage, while another 2 million actually make less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, she said, citing Labor Department statistics. Missouri’s minimum wage increased to $7.50 an hour on Jan. 1.

Hausner cited the numbers that constitute a “living wage” in Platte County, a suburban area north of Kansas City, Mo., where she lives. For a single adult, a living wage is $8.92 an hour, but for married couples with one child, the number jumps to $17.91 an hour. That living wage, though, “allows no grace for the realities of life,” Hausner said. “It just means you’re one event away from disaster.”

Yet if the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity, it would be — adjusted for inflation — $18.67 an hour now, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

For Neff and his wife, who opened their shop five years ago this week, it was a matter of “doing the math” to figure out how to do the right thing and pay their employees more than the minimum wage. “It builds up everyone,” Neff told the crowd. “It builds up the local economy, the state economy, the national economy.”

He said failing to increase the minimum wage is “hurting people.” 

Although the rally’s turnout numbered fewer than two dozen people (blame the rain), there was good news on the national front.  Gap announced it was raising the minimum wage for 65,000 retail workers employed in its stores across the country. Hourly pay will go up to $9 in 2014 and $10 in 2015 for employees in Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy stores.

Frankly, I think it’s a great PR move for a chain like that to show its support for the worker. Lynn Albright, vice president of Old Navy, told Carol Costello on CNN Thursday morning that the company was offering higher pay “because we want to attract the very best employees.”

She claimed that prices would not be raised to cover the costs of paying above the minimum wage. “It’s an investment in our businesses,” Albright said.

Yet the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report said a loss of around 500,000 jobs could be possible once the minimum wage had gone up to $10.10 by 2016 (which, by the way, doesn’t equal the highest it’s ever been when adjusted for inflation).

Of course, the naysayers have grabbed that prediction and run with it, forecasting doom with the increase in pay. Never mind that even the CBO says the losses could total far fewer than 500,000 jobs, a small percentage of total employment. And no one’s mentioned this line in the report: “All in all, a higher minimum wage tends to increase the employment of higher-wage workers slightly, according to CBO’s analysis.”

Well. That puts an interesting spin on things.

The media have reported the best news from the CBO report: Income will increase for 16.5 million people and around 900,000 — nearly a million — will climb out of poverty with a higher minimum wage.

Sixty percent of those making minimum wage are women, Amber Versola, a trainer for Organizing for Action, said, and 15 million women would see a bigger paycheck with an increase in the minimum wage.

Yes, it was corny, but bacon bouquets were presented to business owners dedicated to paying more than the minimum wage at a Kansas City, Mo. rally. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)
Yes, it was corny, but bacon bouquets were presented to business owners dedicated to paying more than the minimum wage at a Kansas City, Mo. rally. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

“In regard to the multiple studies on the economic impact of raising the minimum wage, it looks to me that our top economists can’t agree,” Hausner said. Yet seven out of 10 Americans agree; they support a higher minimum wage, Versola said.

President Obama has already signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal workers covered by new contracts, but it will take congressional approval of a Democrat-backed bill to raise the minimum wage across the country.

I hate to see anything that might threaten jobs, but I keep thinking of the nearly 900,000 people who could make enough money to climb out of poverty if the minimum wage were raised. Enough money that they don’t have to choose between paying rent or feeding their kids. Enough money that they don’t have to rely on federal assistance like food stamps and Medicaid.

How can we begrudge people the ability to earn a decent living? Stanley Peterson, who attended the rally, said he “used to build houses” and now works for the UPS, and would like to ask those opposed to raising the minimum wage, “What part of you working for less money, and fewer benefits, is good for your economy?”

Raising the minimum wage comes down to the difference between living on $14,500 a year versus more than $20,000. And that is priceless for the people it could benefit.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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