Rep. Jacky Rosen, the Democratic nominee in the 2018 Senate race in Nevada, has long advocated a $15 minimum wage but said Wednesday that there should be a different "threshold" for small businesses that cannot afford it.
In a panel discussion with business leaders at the Urban Chamber of Commerce, Rosen for the first time hedged on her support for a minimum wage increase by calling for a "balance" between paying a livable wage and not hurting businesses.
"Maybe there has to be some kind of threshold because small businesses can't grow, but if you're a larger business, you can absorb it," Rosen said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "People should have the dignity that if you go to work and you do work you're proud of, you should be able to pay your rent and buy groceries. Somehow we have to find that balance that works for different businesses up and down the spectrum."
Rosen is challenging incumbent Republican senator Dean Heller in November in a pickup opportunity for Democrats; Hillary Clinton carried Nevada in 2016 and polls show the race is a practical dead heat.
Rosen's campaign website states that she "believes in expanding economic security for Nevada's hardworking families by raising the minimum wage to a livable wage of $15 an hour and ensuring access to paid family and medical leave."
Business leaders told Rosen at the meeting that politicians need to consider the unintended consequences of raising the minimum wage, the Review-Journal reported.
Rosen on Wednesday heard from business leaders who said higher wages could lead to automation, higher housing costs, or reduced work hours.
"I know it's a good talking point for people to say, 'Yes, we need to pay people more money,'" said Clifton Marshall, owner of Airport Concessionaires, which operates more than 30 stores at McCarran International Airport. "But I don't really think people work through all the ramifications."
After the 45-minute meeting, Marshall added that when wages get too high, employers look for other options—including replacing workers with machines and cutting their hours. He pointed to Seattle, saying employers slashed employee hours after raising the pay floor. Rosen said she understands the plight of small businesses, but the "difficult discussion" of raising wages must happen.
"We have to find a way that businesses can succeed and give working people dignity," Rosen told Marshall.
Rosen signed onto the Raise the Wage Act, introduced last year, to lift the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25.
The congresswoman spoke of her support for the $15 minimum wage earlier this month at a roundtable hosted by the Service Employees International Union, trying to establish a strong contrast with Heller. Heller said recently there should not be a national minimum wage, suggesting states should pass their own floors.