ST. LOUIS – Several new laws go into effect in Missouri at the start of the year. One being an increase in the minimum wage, something some business owners see as a mere drop in the bucket in a highly competitive job market.
As Missourians rang in the new year, they also ushered in an increase to the minimum wage from $11.15 to $12 an hour, an increase of 85 cents. It’s part of a voter-approved plan to raise the minimum wage every year through 2023.
Missouri is one of 27 states gradually rising pay for private businesses. Illinois is another, increasing its minimum wage from $12 to $13 an hour.
While 15 states have matched the federal minimum wage, which sits at $7.25 an hour, it’s remained stagnant since 2009. That makes it tough to find employees in an already ambitious workforce still reeling from the aftershocks of the pandemic and inflation.
Somebody working full-time at the federal minimum wage would make just over $15,000 annually, before taxes. Working full-time in Missouri with its new minimum wage would earn you just below $25,000, and $27,000 if you work in Illinois.
“I’ve been looking for months. It’s been really hard to find, so I offer them more than the minimum wage. Still, nobody wants to work,” said Dae Lee, owner of Katsuya in the Delmar Loop.
Monday was Lee’s first day opening his small business. But without staff, he had to rely on family instead.
“This is a simple place, so even with people with no experience, I start with $15 an hour, still can’t find people, so I go $16, $17; still, no people,” Lee said. “But if I pay them too much, I don’t make enough money, so that’s the biggest problem.”
“Everything’s for sale except dog. His name is Max,” said Elisheva Heit, the owner of Flamenco Exquisite Flower Design.
Heit runs her shop by herself after recently trying to hire staff to no avail.
“It’s hard. I can’t afford for mistakes,” she said. “Either I plan it well, or it’s a domino effect of things falling apart and I can’t really do that.”
“I was very frightened, because I do think as minimum wage goes up and the lowest-paid employees automatically make more, that needs to extend up the line, so the highest-paid employees are getting the same raise,” said Kelly Von Plonski, owner of Subterranean Books.
In a bigger space and making more, Von Plonski is happy to see several employees get a boost; but for many, it’s not enough to jump on board.
“It’s definitely been the strangest two years of the past 22,” she said. “Higher turnover than what we usually have, we normally have people stay forever.”
She and many other frustrated small business owners don’t see this as much of a help but a conversation starter about pay and worker shortage that never seems to end.
“Maybe, collectively, we’ll one day come up with some kind of answers,” Heit said.