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Higher Minimum Wage Would Help Some, Change Nothing for Others With PM-Minimum Wage

November 2, 1989

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ For restaurant owner Jesus Tavera, a higher minumum wage means a higher- priced menu.

For Shirlee Lora, a single mother of two, getting more than $3.35 an hour means means more food and clothes for her children.

For grocery store owner Bill Engelbrecht, a higher minimum wage wouldn’t mean much because he can’t get anyone to work for the current minimum anyway.

Those were some of the impressions Wednesday in the nation’s heartland after the U.S. House voted 382-37 for an increase in the minimum wage from $3.35 per hour to $4.25 per hour.

Under the bill, the minimum would go to $3.80 per hour April 1 and to $4.25 per hour one year later. The measure now goes to the Senate, where leaders said they hoped to put it on President Bush’s desk before Thanksgiving.

″If I have to pay more, I have to raise my prices,″ said Tavera, who opened Restaurante Guadalajara three months ago in Kansas City’s West Side.

Tavera said he thought it wasn’t a bad idea to raise the minimum, but it would cause across-the-board inflation.

″If I have somebody who cooks for $4.50 an hour and the minimum (becomes) $4.25, she’s going to ask me for $5.50,″ Tavera said.

Ms. Lora, 26, made $3.35 per hour when she started at a Midtown Winchell’s Donut House. She now makes $4.25 - the proposed new minimum - and she says there’s a big difference.

″There’s more to buy for my two kids. ... You can basically save more. There’s no way you can save on the (current) minimum,″ she said, adding that an increase ″is long overdue.″

If approved, the minimum-wage hike would be the first since 1981.

But many employers said the market had already rendered the $3.35-per-hour rate obsolete.

Engelbrecht, manager of a large grocery store next to Truman High School in Independence, said he couldn’t hire help for $3.35.

″I’m next door to a high school. I mean right next door, and I can’t get help. They walk on by,″ he said.

He said grocery baggers start at $3.90 per hour now, and by the time the new minimums would phase in, the sackers likely will be making more.

″It makes the politicians look good, but they haven’t done anybody any favors,″ Engelbrecht said. ″The private sector is ahead of the government.″

Richard Diehl, who manages a Burger King near downtown, said he also couldn’t pay minimum wage, although many will work for a few cents more an hour.

″Even in the most depressed areas, it affects their mentalities to take the minimum wage,″ Diehl said. ″They won’t take a minimum-wage job.″

He said the $4.25 minimum would cost his restaurant roughly $8,000 more a year.

″That wouldn’t devastate us,″ he said, adding that many employers already were planning on a federally mandated increase.

Other fast-food managers said only the youngest, least experienced start at the current minimum. In Johnson County, Kan., an affluent suburb west of Kansas City, many youngsters start at more than $4 per hour now, managers said.

Manuel Rayes, publisher of the bilingual Dos Mundos newspaper, said the measure would help Hispanic citizens - perhaps at the expense of undocumented workers.

″These people are going to come out of their homes and look for jobs. And maybe they’ll take jobs that the illegals would have had,″ Rayes said.

″The illegal ones will come here and work for anything they can,″ Rayes added. ″It’s not that they’re taking jobs away. They are taking jobs that nobody wants.″