I   have to admit I'm struggling with the idea of increasing the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour.

In fact, every time the subject of increasing the minimum wage has come up in the last 30 years or so -- it's gone up a dozen times since 1977 -- I've been resistant to it.

Why? Because logic suggested it would increase the cost of products and services for all consumers and would cause employers to resist hiring new employees.

I'm not sure that is what they teach in Economics 101, but I've seen no proof it isn't exactly how it works in the real world. Add human nature to the mix, and I'm convinced my logic is on the money.

Because being in business is all about one thing -- making a profit. From Day 1 in the history of mankind, that's been true. No one goes into business to lose money.

And no owner of a business is going to pay higher wages without also increasing prices. Costs go up, prices go up. Wages go up, prices go up. And if that means fewer sales, then jobs are lost.

But who among us doesn't also believe that a person working a 40-hour week shouldn't at least live above the federal poverty level? I believe that.

That means a family of four -- a father, a mother and two children -- would need an income of $23,550 a year to escape official poverty.

So with one of the adults working a full-time job, he/she would have to earn $11.33 an hour to pass the federal poverty mark.

Even at $9 an hour, minimum wage isn't getting a family out of poverty unless someone works two or more jobs.

And that's what a lot of families are doing. They have no choice.

For that reason, any opposition to minimum wage increases is seen as cold and heartless.

But the truth is the minimum wage has gone up three times since a lot of us middle income workers have gotten our last raise. And now they're talking about three more increases to minimum wage before 2015.

Clearly, the workers at the bottom and top rungs of the scale keep seeing their incomes rise, while those of us in the middle have been in a five-year stall.

I don't mind people being upwardly mobile, but not entirely at the expense of the man/woman in the middle.

And that's what's happening.

I've known Bob Jensenius, executive vice president of the York County Economic Alliance, for more than 30 years. When we first met he was the controller and human resources director for a company known as the El-Ge Potato Chip Co., along Route 462, west of York.

In 1984, El-Ge was sold to Southland Corp., a Fortune 100 company at the time. So if anyone knows the potential effects of increasing the minimum wage on medium-sized or very large companies, it would be Jensenius.

"This much I know," he said. "When I was at El-Ge we always paid workers above the minimum wage, so the minimum wage was not a concern. But if it had been, those most affected by it would have been the summer interns and people at the bottom of the ladder, because we wouldn't have paid them more than we thought they were worth."

That makes sense to me.

"I don't think there's a living soul who wouldn't want someone who's making $7.25 an hour to start making $9 an hour or even $15 an hour," Jensenius said, "but it can't be done artificially."

A robust economy will drive wages up faster and higher than setting them artificially, he said in an interview last Thursday.

Besides, he said, pay should be related to merit, to experience, to an increase in skills. Low-paying jobs are great opportunities for young people and entry-level workers to learn the basics of keeping and maintaining a job and building a résumé.

"It's always better when wage increases are set by the free market," Jensenius said. "If we create jobs, create a demand for jobs, then the marketplace will drive up wages way beyond $9 an hour."

It affects the middle class more than anyone else, he said, because when costs go up, prices go up, and it decreases the buying power of the general public.

"I hate to come out against it because it makes you look like an Ebenezer Scrooge," Jensenius said.

"But I haven't seen any evidence that poverty goes down when the minimum wage goes up."

He's right, you know. I looked it up.

The minimum wage has increased 23 times since it was first put into effect in 1938, at 25 cents an hour.

And not once has an increase in the minimum wage been sufficient to raise a family out of poverty, if only one member of the family works.

Not once.

So there's got to be a better way.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.