This morning in Atlanta, GA fast food workers are going on strike in an effort to demand a higher minimum wage of $15 per hour. That is $31,500 a year for a full time fast food employee (not including benefits).
As matter of practice I believe it is good policy for any given employer to treat their employees with a certain amount of dignity and respect – including paying their employees a fair wage. I believe this not just on moral grounds, but also as a matter of doing good business and competing in the marketplace.
For example, companies like McDonalds and Wal-Mart are notorious for treating and paying their long-time employees poorly. In response this has directly affected the quality of their businesses (no one shops at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s for the ambiance) and, perhaps more importantly, degrades their reputation with the consumer. In the long run this is just bad business.
Bad business doesn’t mean that the Government should necessarily litigate their business practices though. Bad business decisions for one company presents a new opportunity for another company (thus opening up new opportunities for employees as well). For example, companies like Costco and Chick-fil-a have decided to pay employees better and implement a different sort of culture. Ultimately, this has lead to better quality services, higher profits, and happier employees – all without Government intervention.
Problems with an artificially high minimum wage:
While the idea of every worker, regardless of their job title, earning over $30,000 per year may sound like a good idea to some people – it is important to point out that there are many unforeseen consequences.
1. It disrupts small business’s ability to compete.
Mandating an artificially high minimum wage (especially one as high as $15/hr) makes it very difficult for businesses to compete in the market place.
For example, let’s say that a local retail boutique (The Little Apple Boutique) offer’s high wages in an effort to draw in the best employees. They need these employees because part of their business model is to offer superior customer service in exchange for moderately higher prices for their goods. Their profit margins are low because the cost of paying their employees and running the business is high, but this is the niche that they have carved out for their business and it’s working.
When an artificial minimum wage is introduced this destroys The Little Apple Boutique’s ability to execute their business plan. They can no longer attract the best employees because every other business in the area is offering the same wage. The Little Apple Boutique can’t afford to raise their wages any higher and stay in business. Six months later customers begin to complain that The Little Apple Boutique’s customer service isn’t what is used to be. Twelve months later The Little Apple Boutique is out of business.
2. High minimum wage closes the gap between the poor and the middle class, but not between the 1% and 99%.
In general, people are very aware (and concerned) about wealth inequality in America. There is a constantly growing gap between the super-rich and everyone else. But rather than addressing that inequality gap an artificially high minimum wage could serve to expand it.
2a. High minimum wages hurt small businesses and but do not affect big corporations
Most of the poor and middle class people in America shop at the same places. (We all shop at places like Wal-Mart, Target, Publix, McDonald’s, etc.) The places that we can afford to shop, in general, employee a large number of employees at or slightly above the current minimum wage.
Higher minimum wage (especially $15/hr) will ultimately drive prices up at places where the poor and middle class shop. Overall this means that the middle class will be poorer (assuming they already made above minimum wage, but now have higher prices) and only serve the poor marginally (assuming the poor now make $15/hr, but now have to pay higher prices).
The one class that the higher minimum wage does not affect is the rich. Moderately higher prices do not affect their lifestyle and they probably don’t shop at McDonalds or Wal-Mart anyways.
2b. Higher minimum wages hurt middle class small businesses, not rich corporations, ultimately helping the rich corporations.
On the surface, this seems like a battle waged against big and evil corporations. The type of corporations that treat their employees like trash and serve us mediocre food. We see this as a battle for the poor and against companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. This is not the truth.
Ultimately, this is a fight against the middle class and an apathetic super-rich. If the people successfully lobby the Government to pass an artificially high minimum wage (specifically one as high as $15/hr) it will hurt small, middle class business – not the evil corporations.
In the long run companies like McDonalds and Wal-Mart will survive the minimum wage hikes. They will pass the expense on to their customers, to their suppliers of beef and paper products (who are probably small/medium sized businesses) and keep the profits for themselves. In fact, the poor (who shop at Wal-Mart) will keep shopping there, but since they make more money they will spend more. Ultimately giving Wal-Mart even more profits. Ironic.
The companies that will ultimately go out of business are the ones that ultimately treat their employees with respect in the first place. Small businesses like The Little Apple Boutique, Local Farmers, and Diners will go out of business. And in the end we will all keep shopping at Wal-Mart, but this time paying higher prices for the same bad service we’ve always had.
3. Outsourcing and the Value of low skilled labor
In the labor market of individuals who are paid less than $15/hr there are basically two classes: 1. low-skilled manual labor (cashier, hamburger cook) and 2. skilled-labor that doesn’t demand much money (tech support). I want to discuss how a higher minimum wage will affect each of these two classes.
3a. Does the low-skill labor demand $15/hr?
When people think about those people who are unfairly treated by their employers (and who deserve a higher wage) they often imagine the poor mother with two kids who cannot make ends meet. She gives life everything she has, but can’t make it. It is unfair.
This is a action-provoking idea, but it does not reflect the situation of the majority of minimum wage workers. Rather it serves as an artificial “poster child” used by lobbying groups to evoke emotion from the masses.
The truth is that over half of minimum wage workers are young people (probably in school and still gaining skills) not bread-winners. A research by the Pew Research Center shows that 50.6% are ages 16 to 24; 24% are teenagers (ages 16 to 19).
This begs the question: Do 16 year old teenagers and college students really need (or do their skills demand) $15/hr? I don’t think so and I do not think an artificially high minimum wage is an appropriate way to address the rare case of a struggling mother. There are numerous, more efficient, way to manage such cases.
3b. Skill-Labor: Outsourced jobs that could be in America:
The problem with most skilled-labor jobs that pay less than $15/hr is that they are easily outsourced to countries that do not have minimum wage standards or the job is subject to being automated.
The average outsourced job in India pays $13.46/hr ($28,000/yr). That is over $1.50 less than the proposed minimum wage of $15/hr. This means that all jobs that can be outsourced will be outsourced (or automated).
The other idea to consider is that companies are smart. We already see retail stores replacing cashiers with automated machines. Would it seem strange to think that our food may be cooked by robots in the near future? I don’t.
In the future a $15/hr job might mean no job at all for many Americans. Food for thought.