Testimony Before the Committee on Civil Service and Labor of the New York City Council
By Daniel Powers Jr, Small Business Owner, Real Brave Audio & Director, After School Rocks
Good afternoon. My name is Daniel Powers. I am a musician and for the past 9 years I have owned and managed Real Brave Audio, a music school and small business located out in Fresh Meadows, Queens. I am also the founder and director of After School Rocks, a soon-to-be-official 501c3 foundation. The basic premise behind Real Brave and After School Rocks is simple and something we can all get behind: give kids access to music education. I've worked in schools and in my community to get affordable music instruction to kids and, perhaps more importantly, develop great paying jobs for musicians and help them build careers. I am of the opinion that there is nothing small about small business. Everything you think, do, buy or invest in is big. Every employee you hire is a big deal. Every regulation or fine – no matter how small – is a game changer.
As a member of GoBizNYC, a network of small business groups representing over 25,000 small businesses across the five boroughs, I agree with their mission to strengthen the voice of small, immigrant, and minority-owned businesses and to create an environment where small businesses can flourish, create more jobs and build our city’s neighborhood economies. That is why I am here today.
I am taking time away from my business to be here because I believe it is important for the council to hear how actions like the one proposed may negatively impact small business owners like myself.
Many small business owners and start-up entrepreneurs, including me, are normal, everyday people. We are your neighbors and your corner deli. It is becoming increasingly difficult to rent, insure, build, buy and exist in the five boroughs. What everyday person has the capital to pay such high rent for a brick-and-mortar location? The common perception is that risk is what you sign up for as a business owner. But let's not make it more impossible to succeed than it already is. Efforts to improve the livelihoods of employees are admirable, but they shouldn’t be undertaken at the expense of small businesses. Most small business owners have small margins and our backs are already increasingly burdened. I could easily stand before you today and continue to point out how difficult it is to run a business. But that really isn't my goal today. I want you to know that there is more you can do to make an impact on the lives of the good people of New York.
Please understand — I worked my way from the bottom to get to where I am today. I worked many minimum wage jobs – from paper routes and retail to being a porter and working in sales – before I worked at better paying jobs. So I get the need for a good wage. I understand the spirit of what you aim to do. I am not sitting here before you today as someone who is exasperated by the idea of paying people above minimum wage, but I am worried about the precedent you are setting for our future economic success, our kids’ ability to find a job and our city’s growth. Given that New York State has already approved minimum wage increases, I urge you to focus your energies elsewhere.
By trying to force a few bad apples who avoid doing the right thing for their employees, you end up unintentionally hurting the many small businesses that already provide a fair wage for fair work. Raising the minimum wage doesn't address the deeper problem at hand for the city, which is widespread underemployment, defined as people working part time but want to work full time or in a job they are overqualified for. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the underemployment rate in New York City was 14.2% at the end of the third quarter of 2013. We are now fighting for a minimum wage hike so that current college graduates burdened with mortgage-size debts and underemployment can continue that cycle. So I ask you: do we accept this as the status quo or do we fight for better jobs? Do we want what the Wall Street Journal is calling the "well-educated barista economy"?
The new economy to me is about better jobs — which leads to better wages. Instead of raising the minimum wage, we need to focus on lifting this city by investing in a pathway to better jobs. We need to create and invest in programs that properly develop our workforce for jobs in the new economy. We need to foster greater coordination between the private sector and our education system to ensure that the skills learned in school translate to the real world.
I urge the Council to instead focus on enabling emerging and successful businesses to grow and ensuring that our workers have a better chance at success in this new economy.
I believe that we can work together to be career developers and not minimum wage promoters. I and the rest of the small business community would stand ready to support you in such efforts if you would invite us on that journey.
Video: To watch the testimony, click here and begin at 56:00.