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Minimum wage hike helps … a little

Published:   |   Updated: March 12, 2013 at 04:33 PM

SEBRING Rob Guillaume does the math in his head: 12 cents an hour times 40 hours a week times 52 weeks in a year.

"That's another $4.80 a week, about $250 a year. So it helps, but not a lot," Guillaume said.

On New Year's Day, Florida's minimum wage increased to $7.79 an hour for an estimated 210,000 minimum wage workers.

That sort of applies to Guillaume, who sells athletic shoes at Foot Locker in Lakeshore Mall. If he doesn't sell enough to qualify for a commission, then he makes minimum wage.

Including overtime and other factors, the higher wage will increase annual incomes of minimum wage workers by about $370 a year, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank that focuses on low-income wage issues.

Under a 2004 constitutional amendment, Florida's minimum wage is tied to inflation and therefore recalculated every year. Florida is among 10 states that increased the threshold beyond the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Employers aren't celebrating though. Guillaume's friend, David Bermudez, owns David's Hot Spot in the mall. At 10:30 a.m., he still hadn't opened his store. After Christmas, retail business falls off remarkably.

"Some days you work all day without making a dollar," Bermudez said, but he still pays employees anyway.

And then there was John Faulkner, who was sitting in the food court before applying for a job with Lakeshore Mall itself. He had already applied at the car wash.

"I could survive on minimum wage," he said. Unemployed and in his 50s now, Faulkner doesn't pay rent, and he rides a bike on most days.

Back when he was 16, Faulkner made $1.25 an hour pumping gas at Paul's Exxon in Wheaton, Md.

"I learned how to clean windows," he smiled, and changed the oil and transmission fluid. It was a decent job for a high school kid. Back then, $7.79 an hour seemed like a fantastic sum.

"My father didn't make much more than me," Faulker said.

The number of minimum wage jobs is a small percentage of the 7.5 million people employed in the Florida workforce: 90 percent of the low-wage workers are over age 20; 85 percent work 20 hours per week or more; 46 percent have at least some college education, the Economic Policy Institute indicated.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story (863) 386-5828

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