This post has been on my mind for some time now, and I’ve really debated the best way to write it. I know that this is a volatile subject in the US right now, I don’t know about other countries and their wages. Right now there are so many people pushing for a higher minimum wage, more benefits paid by the employer, more time off, more, more, more. So I guess I am going to throw in my two cents here. I don’t say what I am going to say to judge individuals, I just wanted to share our experience as employers, just for another perspective.
My husband has been self-employed almost our entire married life. He is a general contractor. We build on average one, sometimes two custom homes a year, until the last couple of years anyway. I am an artist and have only recently (the last two or so years) begun selling my art. Over the years we have had employees, but we always end up not being able to maintain having them because of the behind the scenes costs and lack of ability finding people who can, or are willing, to actually work. So I decided to write a little bit about what it is to be an employer as we mainly seem to hear only the employees side of the story.
When my husband started building houses we couldn’t afford any employees, so I went to work with him every day. We worked six days a week, often 10-12 hours a day. Many years of our marriage we have been below, what the government considers poverty level, but we have always stayed out of debt. This has required a lot of sacrifice, and the understanding of what is actually a need and what is really just a want (this is a whole other post). I don’t say that trying to judge others or sound like I’m better than anyone because of what we did, but so much of what is purchased in society now has to do with comfort and leisure, and only a small portion of our income goes to actual necessities.
When I had our first child I couldn’t go to work any more and we decided to hire one employee. We did not realize the amount of extra money and paperwork that would be associated with an employee. All of which I got to deal with. Construction workers comp is one of the highest percentage workers comp policies there is. Then there’s all the paperwork associated with paying the employees taxes, making sure the work environment is safe, dealing with insurance companies on a regular basis along with all the computer work for keeping track of jobs, wages, workers comp, etc.
So, to list just some of the expenses of doing business: General Liability Insurance, Bond, Commercial Auto Insurance, Workers Comp Insurance, Business Licenses (he has to have 2 for the state, and one for the borough we live in), Continuing Education expenses, etc. These are a lot of the major expenses, and just these totaled over $15,000 a year. And that was with only one employee. Then there’s the expenses of things like gas, repairs for equipment, licensing of vehicles and equipment, computer programs for accounting, accountants, printing and copying on large formats for blueprints, paying inspectors, … The list goes on and on.
My husband works on his job sites often 50-60 hours a week, and then he comes home and has to do things like bid for the next job, write proposals, call and schedule subs, makes sure bills are correct so they can be paid, write invoices, etc. I don’t bring all this up to discourage people who want to start a business, or to make people think it’s not worth the effort. I only list these things to show a little bit of what the other side of the line deals with on a daily basis. Employees have a job for a specific set of hours a day and then their time is theirs, business owners have the work they do at the business they created, as well as hours before and after their “scheduled” time, and worrying about everything associated with the business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And yes, it’s worth it most of the time. But there is a reason that entry level jobs pay minimum wage and that minimum wage even exists. The other thing is finding someone qualified for the job and willing to do the “heavy lifting” (literally and figuratively on a construction job). People who said they were qualified but end up not knowing how to do anything, or kids who we can train, but spend half their day on their phones. It’s extremely difficult to find good help that might even be worth more than minimum wage. I find it interesting that most of those calling for higher wages have a high school education, and yet they want a job that pays as much as a college or trade school graduate, or they don’t want to start at the bottom of their chosen field and work they way up, they want a wage they could only achieve after years of work, without doing the work. I am not saying you can’t get a good job without going to college. There are so many programs out there for on the job training, there is a huge variety of certificates people can earn that aren’t super expensive and that you can finish in just a few months. There are programs for helping people get an education or certificates. There are so many options, but when an employer is looking for a minimum wage employee, it’s because that’s probably what the employer can afford at the time, and/or it doesn’t require any training to begin with, or the training can be accomplished on the job which leads to a raise in pay when the training is complete.
I guess, to sum up my thoughts, the people calling for higher pay for minimum wage jobs needs to understand where the employer is coming from. Often, we hear that someone owns their own business and we automatically assume that they have lots money, that they don’t have to work very hard, or that they are living the life of Riley on the backs of their employees. I think that can be the case sometimes, especially with large corporations, I don’t know. But with small businesses, that is rarely the case. If their business is better established, maybe they do have extra time. That’s one of the advantages of being self-employed is having the freedom to schedule your own time and be more flexible. But if it’s self-owned, they went through a lot to get there. And if it’s a newer business, you can bet there are times when they don’t know how they’re going to pay their own bills at the end of the month, let alone their employees. There are so many great employers out there, doing their best to help their employees. But, as an employee, you need to make sure you are committed to that company as well. The better you do and the more you sell the business, the better the business does and the more the employer can afford to pay. It’s hard to find good help that is committed to being good help in whatever job they may find themselves in. It’s equally hard to find people who have learned how to work in a society with the mentality of “me first.”
So, those are my thoughts on the other side of the story. I hope you found this informative and helpful in understanding where small businesses are coming from. And if you really want to help small businesses pay better wages, then you need to open your wallet and support them. Shop small instead of buying from large chain stores and corporations. And remember, small businesses are often the first to support their communities, the local kids sports teams, the bake sales, the school activities, etc. Lets work on supporting them back.