|Ryan Rusincovitch is seen in BG Carryout in Bowling Green. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
An extra $160 in Ryan Rusincovitch’s pocket at the end of the month makes a big difference for him.
It's the difference between buying a full list of groceries and buying a week's worth of spaghetti. It's the difference between driving to work and walking in the winter weather to save gas.
"I just have the lowest level of what I need to survive," said Rusincovitch, 35, who works 40-hour weeks as a clerk at BG Carryout on East Wooster Street. "Driving around is more of a luxury."
If the federal minimum wage was raised to $10.10 as President Barack Obama urged Congress to do during his State of the Union address, Rusincovitch would have that extra money in his pocket as he makes roughly $9 an hour as a clerk.
"I would definitely appreciate it," Rusincovitch said. "Things are tight right now. This (job) is my bread and butter."
Obama signed an executive order to raise wages to $10.10 next year for federal contract workers on Wednesday, hoping it would encourage Congress to do the same for minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour.
While Ohio's minimum wage is 70 cents higher than the federal minimum at $7.95, a possible increase would put, at most, more than $320 extra a month in people's paychecks. In Ohio, an estimated 31,000 people work minimum wage out of 1.566 million nationally, according to 2012 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The increase would also boost the funds of the estimated 581,000 Ohioans who make between $8 to $10 an hour, like Rusincovitch, according to an unpublished 2013 annual average report provided by Peter Horner, program manager for the BLS.
"When you're on a tight budget, every little bit counts," Rusincovitch said.
But employees like Rusincovitch aren't the only ones on tight budgets: so are some small business owners.
For Bobby Shunnar, owner of BG Carryout, a minimum wage increase means more strain on him and his workers.
"Employers will have to cut down on labor and ask the employee to perform more, but cut down on benefits," Shunnar said. "I'm for raising it a little bit, but that's too much right at once."
Because businesses might have to cut down on labor, part-time positions could be eliminated, said Sue Clark, executive director for the Bowling Green Economic Development Foundation.
Employers will have to figure out how many employees are necessary to get the job done and how to increase their revenue, Clark said.
One way to do this would be through price increases, Shunnar said.
"I'm sure McDonald's would have the same problem," he said. "You wouldn't see a $1 menu anymore."
Though he would be getting a raise, Rusincovitch said he understands the pressure it puts on business owners.
"I know I'm a hard worker, but I'm in an industry where you're working on small margins," he said. "I'd almost be against it because I know what I got right now and I'm making it work."
Employees on welfare could also be negatively impacted by a wage increase.
Roughly one fourth of the 4,000 households in Wood County that receive food stamps have an earned income, said Michael Fuller, assistant director for Wood County Job and Family Services. At an average earning of $1,124 a month per household with an extra $261 in food stamps, those people are still making less than the federal poverty level of $2,708 per month, Fuller said.
"With food stamps, if your income goes up, it lowers your food stamps and eligibility for cash assistance," he said.
Though he couldn't say whether employers in the department's job placement program would hire less, Fuller said any increase could have an impact on a family.
"I'm trying to take care of myself and I'm struggling," Rusincovitch said. "I couldn't even imagine having to take care of a family."
Some businesses may have to cut back on hours, but Kelly Wicks, owner of Grounds For Thought, sees stability at higher wages possible.
"I think any small business can reach the goal of $10.10, but it takes planning and time to reach those goals." Wicks said. "It's good for workers, it's good for the community and it puts more money in the pocket of the people who need it."
When wages go up, economic benefits have been documented, Wicks said.
"Production goes up when workers are paid more, and they're more likely to take on more responsibility," said Wicks, who hires starting employees close to minimum wage before bumping their pay when they show more dedication.
While Wicks' new hires are mostly part-time college students, his managerial staff is older and makes more than $10 an hour. Typically, his college employees are working to make a few extra bucks, he said.
But for Taylor Massey, who works at Grounds For Thought, her earnings go mostly to her bills like Rusincovitch.
When her car broke down last year, costing roughly $1,000 to fix, she found herself in a bind.
"Once you have those things in life that seem to dig you in a hole, it's hard to get out of," said Massey, a junior digital art major at Bowling Green State University.
Though her family could have helped, Massey said she would have refused it.
"I grew up in a family where you work for what you want," said Massey, who makes roughly $9 an hour. "You don't ask for help."
Instead, Massey relies on loans each semester to pay for school as well as rent, but when that runs out she finds herself cutting back on groceries and gas.
"Every semester my bank account goes back to zero," she said. "Having something there at the end of the day would be great so I'm not constantly waiting for a loan."
Loans were the reason Rusincovitch had to take a break from his education. He has been studying construction management at BGSU and said he has eight courses left to take before graduating.
"I've always been fascinated with construction and I finally had an opportunity to (go to school)," said Rusincovitch, who had saved enough money from being a cook in the Port Clinton area to pay for some schooling and loans. "It worked fine for a while until I ran out of money."
That was 14 months ago, around the time he started working at BG Carryout. He still owes roughly $20,000 in loans.
During his time as a cook, Rusincovitch made between $15 and $20 an hour.
"You definitely get used to a certain style of life," he said. "But when I became a student, my whole life changed. I'm still trying to figure it out."
If he were to get a pay increase, Rusincovitch would keep putting his money toward his bills instead of his loan.
"I know eventually I'll get a break and I'll get to them," he said.
In order to make more money, Shunnar said the best way is for employees to increase their skill sets and education like Rusincovitch and Massey.
For now, Rusincovitch's plan is to "just hang in there."
"I know if I do the right thing, good things will happen," he said. "It's frustrating, but you got to keep going at it."