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Those arguing for raising the minimum wage say it has not kept up with inflation and does not allow families to survive.

If the minimum wage kept pace with its 1968 value, it would be $9.40 today, said Mark Price, labor economist for the Keystone Research Center. He said a higher minimum wage could hurt some struggling small employers, but he said adapting to rising costs is part of owning a business.

“It’s not good policy to have a low minimum wage that puts a number of people living at or below the poverty line,” he said. “There is a built-in innovation in labor markets. If you raise the cost of labor, employers have to get smarter about using the cost of labor.”

The Berks Community Action Program works to help move people from public assistance to employment through the Work Ready program.

“What we want to do is ensure the jobs we do have provide a livable wage,” said Lawrence A. Berringer, executive director of Berks Community Action Program on Washington Street. “That will allow the people that are in poverty to rise above that.”

The current minimum wage is not high enough, especially for single parents, Berringer said. Sixteen percent of minimum wage earners in 2012 were single parents, double the number from 2011, according to state labor statistics.

A higher minimum wage could lead to fewer people relying on public assistance, said Mandy Heffner, deputy director of the Work Ready program.

“To get a job at $7.25 an hour is not enough to eliminate the need for food stamps or cash assistance,” she said.

For business owners like Intelisano, there are big worries a minimum wage increase would curtail growth and force layoffs.

“When you look at the employers that pay the minimum wage, usually they are small businesses and many businesses in the food industry,” said Alex Halper, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “Those are both categories that often times have very small profit margins.”

Halper cited state statistics showing 77 percent of minimum wage earners in 2012 were childless, and 56 percent were under 24.

“We’re talking about the vast majority do not have children,” Halper said. “The narrative from proponents that this is a very needy population doesn’t match the reality of the demographics we see are earning the minimum wage.”

He said the chamber supports other income-tax credit programs that help low-income earners without hurting small businesses.

The minimum wage is not enough to support a family, said Ellen T. Horan, president and CEO, Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry. But Horan said those looking for higher paying jobs need to look to training, as minimum wage jobs will likely never pay enough.

“The best opportunity to increase your economic status is to increase your skill set to be able to qualify for non-minimum wage jobs,” Horan said. “Minimum wage jobs are meant to be the basic building block of earning a work history. They are not going to be family-sustaining jobs. I hate for people to think they just need to raise the minimum wage, and I’ll be in good shape.”

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