This spring, Living Cities is excited to share a curated blog series that profiles field leaders’ responses to questions about what it takes to prepare low-income people for quality jobs. These leaders represent financial institutions, foundations, non-profits, the public sector, and employers. This series will offer a diverse set of perspectives on workforce and economic development opportunities and challenges across the country, and is part of a larger effort to inform the future of our emerging efforts to increase the number of low-income adults prepared for quality employment.
With 28 million small businesses employing nearly half the nation’s private workforce, entrepreneurs are a crucial component to our local economies and are the key to our recovery from the Great Recession. Small Business Majority realizes the importance of the nation’s entrepreneurs to our overall economic success, and we strive to strengthen the small business community in order to galvanize the economy. One way to do this is to increase consumer demand, and that means strengthening the middle class—small businesses’ largest customer base.
According to the Public Affairs Council, 68 percent of Americans say they prefer to shop at local small businesses. But in order to get more people into local stores and restaurants, we need smart policies that support our nation’s job creators and boost the spendng power of their middle-class customer base.
What’s more, small businesses can play an important role in growing the middle class by bolstering their own workers. The National Employment Law Project found more than one-third of low-wage workers are employed by small firms, and that jobs in low-wage industries are growing faster than the rest of the economy. Small employers want to do right by their employees, so it’s not surprising that many entrepreneurs want to see Congress move forward with policies that will help improve the lives of low-wage workers.
This is where Small Business Majority comes in. We work to make small business voices heard at the public policy table in order to encourage smart federal, state and regional policies that will encourage small business success.
Below are some policies making their way through Congress now that would give a much-needed boost to small businesses, their workers and their communities. In addition to federal legislation, we need action on the state and local level to help move these critical policies forward.
Raising the Minimum Wage
There’s been much debate lately about raising the minimum wage, and what impact it would have on small businesses. We recently polled a random sample of small businesses from across the country and found 57 percent of entrepreneurs support increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and indexing it to the cost of living.
More than half of small business owners agree increasing the minimum wage would not only help the economy, it would make low-income consumers more likely to spend money, driving up demand for goods and services at small businesses. What’s more, an analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would boost the economy by $22 billion during the initial phase-in period, creating 85,000 jobs.
Consumer demand is small business owners' No. 1 concern, and they see a raise in the minimum wage as a way to stoke that demand. While federal lawmakers continue debating the issue, to state and local authorities can fill in where needed. We know from our polling that small business owners agree local policymakers should be able to set and increase their own minimum wages to supplement an increase in the federal minimum wage, and ensure it makes sense for local economies.
Raising the minimum wage at both the national and the local level would give hard-working Americans more money to spend at small businesses, which helps them create jobs and strengthen their local economies.
Family Medical Leave Insurance
It’s not just economic policies that benefit workers and small businesses—programs that help improve the wellness of employees and their families can have a direct impact on small businesses, as well. Our opinion polling shows small business owners believe it’s important for employees who need to balance their work and family responsibilities to have reasonable options for doing so—options that also serve the interests of employers.
A recent poll conducted for Small Business Majority found a plurality of small businesses support publicly administered family and medical leave insurance pools paid with payroll contributions by employees and employers. What’s more, a majority of small businesses have some type of policy—formal or informal—in place when it comes to family medical leave—time an employee would take to care for a family member with a serious illness or to bond with a new child.
While lawmakers have yet to vote on a bill for a national family medical leave insurance program, some states are taking matters into their own hands. States like California, Rhode Island and New Jersey have a state-administered family leave insurance program, and others like Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii and New York are either studying the issue or considering legislation.
State policymakers and small employers alike realize policies like these create a happier and more productive workforce. Many small business owners think of their employees as family, so it’s not surprising they support a policy that enables them to foster happier staff while protecting their workers and their bottom line.
The small business community is the engine that drives growth and job creation, benefiting both the economy and the middle class. Increasing consumer demand and strengthening the economy are the top priorities for small businesses. Policymakers should listen to small business owners and implement policies that help level the playing field for hard-working Americans. As an advocate for the small business community, Small Business Majority is actively engaging entrepreneurs, policymakers and business groups on these issues and others to find smart solutions that will promote small business growth and help strengthen the economy.
_John Arensmeyer is Founder & CEO of Small Business Majority . For more information on Small Business Majority and our work with the small business community, please visit the organization’s website: http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/. _