Meet Danny and Lilly. They own the nail salon and pizza joint (separate buildings) in my tiny southern town, population of about 1,500. They are a Vietnamese couple with thick accents, big expectations for their two teenage children, and an incredible work ethic—what many Americans would consider a pretty stereotypical Asian family.
I was in their salon on Saturday with my mom, having my hands and feet pampered: jewel-toned gel polish applied, calves massaged, cuticles whipped into shape, when Danny started a rabbit-trail of a conversation with me.
Danny: “Where are you going on your honeymoon?” he asked me.
Me: “Cozumel, Mexico. We were going to go on a cruise in the Caribbean, but we changed our minds a few weeks ago, and we sure are glad; look at what happened to that ship the Triumph!
Danny: Oh that’s no big deal, as long as it isn’t sinking like the Titanic… You should see the boat I came over on.
I was certain he was joking, I mean come on, this isn’t 1620. There aren’t men in somber clothing with buckled shoes and the moniker “pilgrim” making their voyage to “the Americas” anymore.
But on a boat they came. Danny and Lilly made a 30-day journey from a refugee camp in Hong Kong in the late 1970s. Wooden Sailboats, weeks without food or clean water, encounters with Thai pirates, and the incredible fear of discovery were all elements in their tale.
Mom and I looked at each other incredulously, feeling simultaneously awed by their story and embarrassed by our comparatively privileged lives.
After they finished their story, Danny looked to me and asked, “So what is it you do, exactly?”
I paused, unsure of how to answer. For all I knew, Danny had a limited grasp on American politics. Between that and his limited English, combined with my own thick accent, I was unsure how to explain my job to him.
“I basically research what the state and federal governments are doing and try to convince them to do better.”
I was wrong about his grasp of politics; as a small business owner and immigrant, he explained to me that he was not a big fan of President Obama.
“I don’t like the president right now, he is making it really hard for our businesses,” Danny said as he carefully painted my toes.
Lilly chimed in: “I don’t know what we’re going to do if the minimum wage goes up. We can barely afford to pay our employees as it is. How are we supposed to pay them even more without firing someone?”
I, of course, agreed emphatically. When the discussion of minimum wage laws come up it is often in terms of the corporate giants: McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, etc. Proponents of minimum wage laws usually argue that companies like that can afford to pay their employees more but choose not to. They never seem to consider—and are perhaps unaware of—the damage it does to the very people they are trying to help. People like Danny and Lilly.
Even more troubling is that supporters of minimum wage increases don’t realize that doing so constitutes, in many ways, an indirect subsidy to these giant corporations. Small businesses are a huge threat to corporations, as they can very often provide similar quality products for a cheaper price. Increasing the minimum wage, however, drives up labor costs for those small businesses and subsequently runs them out of business. The big corporations get bigger, fewer people have work, and small business owners and immigrants like Lilly and Danny have a harder life.
Those who suffer the costs of government intrusions in the economy are those very same people that the increase is supposed to help.
It is individuals like Lilly and Danny who will have to decrease the size of the businesses they’ve fought hard to establish, and it is poor minorities who will be the first ones to suffer the consequences of this policy. There is no more denying that increasing the minimum wage actually hurts those earning the minimum wage the most. It is time to quit falling for the lies of our illustrious leaders, and paying attention to hardworking people like Lilly and Danny.