Florida needs to set a higher minimum wage to help workers struggling to make ends meet, according to a panel of the state’s leading voices. But there was little consensus on how high it should go.
The Florida Influencers, a group of 50 prominent political and policy voices, gave mixed reviews to a proposal championed by on the left: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In a new survey, 43 percent supported the idea, 28 percent opposed it and 30 percent said they weren’t sure about it.
Still, many of the Influencers were in agreement that Florida’s current minimum wage of $8.25 an hour was insufficient.
“While raising the minimum wage may have a short-term cost to the economy, the benefit for so many people in terms of dignity and quality of life greatly outweighs the small downside impact on the economy,” said Richard Fain, the chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Other Influencers argued that any increase in the minimum wage needed to be balanced against the needs of businesses.
“This unfortunately is a double-edged sword. On one hand we need to support the $15 an hour increase due to individuals needing to pay the high costs of rents, medicine and everyday necessities such as food,” said Terry DeCarlo, an Orlando-based LGBTQ activist. “The flip side is by moving to a $15 minimum the burden of making up that increase would fall upon the retailer, prices will go up, job hours would be cut, and some would even lose their jobs. Somehow we have to come to a happy medium on this.”
“Anyone working full time should be able to earn a wage that provides for basic human needs such as food, housing and transportation,” added Jacob Solomon, the president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “While I am not certain as to what that number should be, it is abundantly clear that $8.25 is woefully inadequate.”
In the run-up to the November elections, the Florida Influencers are sharing their ideas on how to address policy concerns facing the state and responding to questions from readers of the Miami Herald, Bradenton Herald and el Nuevo Herald. Candidates running for office across Florida have also been asked to respond to the main issues raised by readers during the Influencer Series -- economic inequality, gun control, education, infrastructure and the environment.
Following a 2004 constitutional amendment, Florida’s minimum wage is adjusted every year based on the cost of living. The wage was raised from $8.10 to $8.25 in 2018, one dollar above the federal minimum wage. The state with the highest minimum wage is Washington at $11.50.
Andrew Gillum, Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, has pushed for a $15 minimum wage on the campaign trail, while his opponent, Republican Ron DeSantis, has largely steered clear of the issue. Orlando trial attorney John Morgan is also pushing for a $15 minimum wage ballot measure in 2020.
A plurality of the Influencers agreed with Gillum and Morgan, noting that some businesses are boosting their own minimum wages to $15 an hour.
“An increase in the minimum wage has been long overdue,” said Victoria Kasdan, the executive director of We Care Manatee. “It won’t hurt Amazon and it won’t hurt Florida businesses either.”
Readers who participated in this week’s conversation using the “Your Voice” online tool expressed concern that a higher minimum wage would negatively affect Florida’s businesses and economy.
Some Influencers strongly felt that a boost in the minimum wage would be too hard on businesses, and warned that their employees would bear much of the cost.
“Between the increase in fuel cost, food cost, commodity cost and an already stretched labor force, we can’t continue to see our cost of business rise or unfortunately the industry will be forced to use technology to replace staff,” said Carol Dover the president of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. “Let’s not let Florida become like many other states, where the high cost of doing business is hurting growth.”
However, others contended that a higher minimum wage would ultimately help the economy, since allow Floridians to more easily keep up with the rising cost of living and give them more money to spend.
“An increased minimum wage will encourage a workforce to continue living in a community where the cost of living, housing and transportation keeps rising. Importantly, it will stimulate consumer spending and grow our economy,” said Xavier Cortada, a Miami-based artist. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
With two weeks to go until the midterms, the Influencers were asked how well they think candidates running for office are focusing on policy solutions. Here’s how they responded:
Very well: 0 percent
Fairly well: 15 percent
Somewhat well: 65 percent
Slightly well: 9 percent
Not at all well: 9 percent
Too early to say: 3 percent
This is the 13th of a series of surveys the Miami Herald will conduct with 50 Influencers through the November elections to help focus media and candidate discussion around the policy issues of most importance to Floridians. Look for the next report on Oct. 29 when Influencers will talk about the economy in Florida. Share your thoughts and questions about the state’s important policy challenges and solutions here.
For more reaction from our Influencers on the minimum wage, look for their quotes on Tuesday’s Opinion page.
George Haj contributed reporting.
Adam Wollner: 202-383-6020, @AdamWollner