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Talking Business with Tony Iannelli: Job market drives minimum wage demand

There’s been a lot of discussion lately regarding the minimum wage. Most “hands off” government types have championed letting the market dictate the minimum wage. Many felt that position was an exercise in both keeping government out of the minimum wage issue as well as keeping it at the current low of $7.25.
But turns out, the market actually took total control and the original numbers of $9.50 or $10 have now been replaced with $15. Since COVID came out of nowhere and turned our world upside down, $15 an hour is the least people are willing to jump into the full-time job market for. And believe me, they have many alternatives, and often at even higher rates.
As CEO of a major business organization, labor costs and its impact on profitability is top of mind, but I must admit, I’m also torn by concerns regarding closing the wealth gap. I fully support the rags to riches, “only in America,” capitalistic approach. Millions of people have done very, very well by it, but it turns out not everyone. And I’m all in for anything that can more inclusively close the widening wealth gap.
Tony Iannelli
You see, if everyone, no matter their current status, feels they have an opportunity to build wealth, security and a family legacy, that can be nothing but good for our nation. Because people who started at the bottom and have obtained some semblance of wealth have nothing but appreciation and love for the opportunity this country has offered them. And if there’s one thing we could use more of right now, it’s appreciation and love for our country.
I know of the “rags to riches, only in America” story very well. For me, it came alive with my Irish relatives working the mines and railroads of Carbondale and, on my dad’s side, the Italians from Brooklyn hustling whatever they could. I know it was terribly hard for many to make a life here, but for the most part, they did.
I get first hand it hasn’t been an easy march. Most of us watched our parents, uncles and aunts scratch, scrape and struggle to build security for the families they loved. It was a difficult, yet in many ways, a rewarding, wonderful journey, but again, it hasn’t been fair for all.
Here’s where it gets a little interesting. And that is the impact it may have on first-time summer employment. At $15 an hour, can we afford to employ a nephew and a neighbor’s kid? I’ve talked to so many successful people who have great memories of their summer jobs. Some were fun, some not so much, but I see the wide smiles on their faces when they recall the younger version of themselves making money and accomplishing something really tangible for the first time.
I worked for my father, along with my friend, Tom Molseed. We spent a summer separating liver and chicken gizzards. Not a barrel of laughs but we had money of our own for the first time. The next summer, I got my license, and we became a delivery team. It’s hard to describe the incredible memories I have of driving through the streets of Allentown, delivering chickens to the various restaurants, bars, ethnic clubs and old school neighborhood markets.
My friend Mike Freeman had a great summer job painting fire hydrants for the city. Another friend had a dream job as a lifeguard in Ocean City. Something I always dreamed of but never accomplished. The one I enjoyed most was delivering The Evening Chronicle newspaper at the Tremont apartments. It was up and down the steps of the closely clustered building and, 40 minutes later, done for the day. I loved that job. I felt like I was doing something great, not to mention getting all the day’s news.
So, here’s my final piece of math that tells me something’s off. I bought my first home in 1972, a row home in Allentown, for $18,000. That same home costs 10 to 15 times that amount today. That same year, I bought a brand-new Toyota Celica for $2,900. Today a brand-new car is going to cost you at least 10 times that. Oh, and that doesn’t include any bells and whistles. The American dream is 10 times as expensive to achieve, while hourly wages since my time on the assembly line at Mack Trucks have tripled at best.
What’s my point to all this? As I see it, the magic of this country is what it offers to all. That opportunity to build a legacy for a family. The opportunity to get a good paying job, own a piece of real estate, and send children off to college. That’s the American dream that made this country.
As that dream gets more difficult to achieve, so does the love and admiration that you hear of so many who have climbed to the top.
That magic of first-generation Americans who, while they pridefully held on to their country of origin, they built a love and commitment to what would become their country…the best in world according to them, America.
So, let’s do what we can to lift everyone up. The more individual success, the more harmony and lovers of country we’ll have. Let’s face it, this is a fast moving, globally competitive, world and we’re gonna need all the motivated team players on the bus.
Tony Iannelli is president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at
Source: Morningcall

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