Minimum wage increases to $7.25

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
With today's wage increase, receptionist Richardine Mathis will make more to answer the phone at Augusta Urban Ministries.

Richardine Mathis got a pay increase today.

The 67-year-old receptionist at Augusta Urban Ministries said the increase in the federal minimum wage from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour means an opportunity to be more independent.

"It will improve my standard of living. That's what it means to me," Ms. Mathis said.

Workers in 30 states, which don't have a higher minimum, will receive an additional 70 cents an hour pay increase. It is the third time the minimum has gone up since 2007: from $5.15 to $5.85 in 2007 and then to $6.55 in 2008.

Ms. Mathis said that she returned to the work force to supplement her income. She receives Social Security and a retirement pension from University Hospital, where she worked for 20 years, but the extra income is helpful.

Other workers are pleased with the increase, but they wish it could be more.

Aretha Ayers, 41, is employed through a staffing agency as a temporary worker for the maintenance and facilities department for the Richmond County school system.

"I think it needs to go up to at least $7.50 or $7.75. My money goes towards bills and food," she said.

Ms. Ayers said that she moved into an apartment two weeks ago after being homeless for two years. She has three daughters, ages 11, 18 and 22, and to make ends meet, she is looking for a second job.

The increase means an extra $10 to $15 a week for Bobby Parrotino, 52, a temporary worker for Richmond County schools.

"It will help out. We need it and we're glad to get it, but we just wish it was more," Mr. Parrotino said. "I'm lucky I don't have anybody but me. It needed to go up. We'd love to see it go up to about $8."

The increase means higher costs for employers. It could cost a small business with 20 employees an extra $30,000 a year, said Kristen Eastlick, a senior research analyst at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C.

Benton Starks, the senior director of facility services for the Richmond County schools maintenance department, said the increase will affect his construction projects. He hired 14 temporary workers this summer to move furniture.

"Any time the minimum wage goes up, our bill goes up as well," Mr. Starks said. "When you have less money in the construction project budget, you have less room to work. If something arises and we need to add a door or something, you have less money to make those changes."

The increase in minimum wage could result in higher prices for consumers, according to the Employment Policies Institute. John Wulf, the marketing director for The Krystal Co., said the new wage will affect the bottom line, though few employees make the minimum wage.

"I know we're not changing anything price-wise. We're not changing the prices on the products to make up for that," Mr. Wulf said. "We try to become more efficient."

"You'd expect that somehow, if businesses are paying more for labor, that they have to transfer those costs to someone. That may have a slight impact on prices," said Paulo Guimarães, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina.

"On the other hand," he explained, "you also have people that will be making a little more income and that may not be so bad."

Business Editor Tim Rausch and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or latina.emerson@augustachronicle.com.

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