Posts tagged with: minimum wage

agitateAccording to Thomas McCraw, who is the author of American Business, 1920-2000: How it Worked, “More people in the U.S. workforce were getting their first job at McDonald’s than at any other employer, including the Army.” By the end of this 80 year period, McDonald’s employer turn over rate was just over 200 percent per year. It was a temporary job, primarily for students.

This factor has changed somewhat. I remember in an ethics class in seminary we had to watch a documentary titled Fast Food Women. The film about workers in Eastern Kentucky projected an angle that the viewer should feel sorry for the workers who were forced to toil at their jobs. Many of the women were working there to help out their families because jobs in the coal mines, which paid substantially more, and were worked by men, were not as readily as available as in the past. While the video portrayed somber music and footage, many of the women on camera said positive things about their jobs and the opportunity it afforded them.

The Wall Street Journal and The Wire both offer excellent write ups on the union led political agitating going on now with the fast food worker strike. See also Anthony Bradley’s Acton commentary “On Wages, McDonald’s Gets it Right.” (more…)

Participant in the Doe Fund, New York City

Participant in the Doe Fund, New York City

No one wants to be poor. No one enjoys figuring out how to stretch meals to last just three more days. No parent wants to tell their child they can’t play a sport or get a new backpack because there is simply no money. No one wants to be evicted. Poverty in America is a reality; so what are we going to do about it?

The American Enterprise Institute has a few ideas. They’ve taken a look at where we are 50 years after the War on Poverty was declared. The conclusion is that we’ve not been successful in that war. Poverty in America—and What to Do About It is a compilation of essays on the topic.

Aparna Mathur says the talk of late about “income inequality” is misleading. We must address poverty, not differences in individual income.

We are now in the fifth year of an economic recovery that does not seem like a recovery to most people in the labor market. There are more than 10 million unemployed workers, of which nearly 4 million have been jobless for longer than 27 weeks. In addition, there are another 10 million who are either in involuntary part-time jobs, or are too discouraged to look for work. Therefore, I would argue that the focus on income inequality is somewhat misplaced. This is essentially a problem of poverty.

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TipsMillions of Americans who work for tips have now been dragged into the political battle over the federal minimum wage and whether it should be raised to $10.10 per hour. Since 1991, the federal minimum wage has been adjusted 5 times, increasing three dollars to its current $7.25. These changes have been made while the minimum wage for America’s largest workforce, tipped workers, has remained unchanged at $2.13 for 23 years.

Although tips are meant to be a gratuity that shows appreciation for good service, they have become the difference between poverty and a living wage for nearly 20 million Americans. Saru Jayaraman, founder of the labor advocacy group Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, says that abolishing the tipped minimum wage in favor of one fair wage will help reduce poverty, especially in families.

But the National Restaurant Association has a different view. In response to a study on tipped wages by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, the NRA states:

Ninety percent of restaurants are independent or franchisee owned and operate on razor thin profit margins. Drastic increases to the minimum wage will only hurt restaurants ability to continue to create jobs and provide real opportunity to young people looking to step into the workforce and those who are finding their economic footing.

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gaplogoThe furniture store Ikea has announced they will begin to base their minimum pay on what’s considered to be a “living wage” in each local area, rather than on what competitors are paying. Similarly, the clothing retailer Gap says it will set $9 as the minimum hourly rate for its United States work force this year and then establish a minimum of $10 next year.

This makes good business sense — but will lead to a lot of bad economic reasoning.

A prime example is the latest column by Slate’s business and economic writer, Jordan Weissmann:

Notably, Ikea isn’t raising prices on its furniture to pay for the raise. Instead, the company’s management says it believes the pay hike will help them compete for and keep talent, which is of course good for business. The Gap used a similar justification when it announced it would raise its own minimum to $10 by 2015.

Which I think hints at something about what would likely happen if the U.S. raised the federal minimum. Conservatives who argue that higher pay floors kill jobs tend to assume that businesses are already running at pretty much peak efficiency, and so forcing them to spend more on labor will lead to less hiring. But left-leaning economists see it differently. They tend to argue that increasing wages can lead to savings for business by reducing worker turnover, for instance, and forcing managers to make better use of their staff.

Both the conservatives and the left-leaning economists are largely correct. Higher pay floors do tend to kill jobs and increasing wages can lead to savings for business by reducing worker turnover. But where Weissmann and other liberals go wrong is in assuming that businesses can still prevent worker turnover when the minimum wage is increased.
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starbucksWhen most people think of Starbucks they think of overpriced coffee, free wifi, and omnipresence. Starbucks are everywhere. The company was founded in 1971 and since 1987 they’ve opened an average of two new stores every day. In the U.S. alone there are 12,973 locations.

When most people think of “big business”, though, they don’t often think of the Seattle-based coffee company. But they should. Starbucks has 151,000 fulltime employees, $15 billion in annual revenues, and three times as many locations as Walmart. Starbucks is one of the biggest of big businesses. And, not surprisingly, a big proponent of cronyist policies.

Cronyism occurs when an individual or organization colludes with government officials to create legislation or regulations that give them forced benefits they could not have otherwise obtained voluntarily. Those benefits come at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and everyone working hard to compete in the marketplace. A prime example is minimum wage laws. Almost without fail, big businesses tend to support higher minimum wages.

Since they could just choose to pay higher wages, why would they support federal mandated wage floors? One reason is because it helps to eliminate the competition from small business who don’t have the size and scale to absorb higher-than-market wage increases.

In a recent interview with CNN, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he supports an increase to federal minimum wage even though he admits the $15 wage in Seattle could have “traumatic effects” on small business owners and employees.
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A couple of interviews to bring you up to speed on from that last couple of days:

First of all, here’s Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg on the GRN Alive morning show on the Guadalupe Radio Network this morning to discuss current efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, giving his analysis on the likely impact of such a move on the economy and the job market.

And from yesterday, here’s Acton co-founder and President Rev. Robert A. Sirico with host Mike Rosen on The Mike Rosen Show on 850 KOA in Denver, Colorado, to discuss Pope Francis’ recent comments to United Nations officials, which included remarks on “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State.” Rosen and Sirico speak extensively about Catholic teaching on economics, and about the misleading nature of the term “trickle-down economics.”

Terminator-2-Judgement-Day-posterI oppose implementing Skynet and increasing minimum wage laws for the same reason: to forestall the robots.

It’s probably inevitable that a T-1000 will return from the future to terminate John Connor. But there is still something we can do to prevent a TIOS from eliminating the cashier at your local McDonalds.

In Europe, McDonalds has ordered 7,000 TIOSs (Touch Interface Ordering Systems) to take food orders and payment. In America, Panera Bread will replace all of their cashiers with wage-free robots in all of their 1,800 nationwide locations by 2016. There is even a burger-making robot that can churn out 360 gourmet hamburgers per hour.

I, for one, welcome our new fast-food robot overlords. I’m just not ready for them yet.
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mcdonalds“Clean up your own mess. Your mother doesn’t work here.”

That was a sign, printed on dot matrix printer paper, which hung in the breakroom of the McDonald’s where I worked. While that was nearly thirty years ago, I suspect that same sign is still there (though probably reprinted on a laser printer). But the idea behind it has changed. Your mother may not work at McDonalds, but the company—and others that hire low-skilled employees—are increasingly taking on the role of in loco parentis.

Lessons in basic life skills that were once taught by parents—such as punctuality, self-direction, basic personal hygiene—are increasingly being provided by the shift manager at the local fast food restaurant. That is why it’s absurd to claim that companies that are willing to hire people who are unqualified for the labor force are somehow getting over on the American taxpayer.

As Reihan Salam,
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Seattle-mystWhen I was growing up I had a buddy—let’s call him “Bob”—who was constantly asking, “What happens if we do . . . ?” Bob’s curiosity, however, only led him to wonder about foolish actions. He never pondered, for example, what would happen if we all volunteered at the senior citizens center. Instead, his thinking ran more along the lines of what would happen if we jumped off the senior citizens center.

The reaction of me and the rest of my friends was always, “Let’s find out!” But we were more prudent than Bob (or maybe just more cowardly) so we’d encourage him to try whatever reckless idea he had in mind so we could learn from his experience. We learned, for instance, that if jump off the 3-story senior citizens center, a stack of cardboard boxes will not be enough to sufficiently break your fall.

Bob’s shenanigans would daily provide for us what social scientists would call a “natural experiment.” A natural experiment is a study of the effect of an independent variable, which has not been planned or manipulated by the researchers, on a dependent variable. (The word ‘natural’ in the term natural experiment therefore refers to an event that is not planned by the researchers.)

The city of Seattle is about to pull a Bob, by foolishly raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The effect on the citizens of Seattle will be almost entirely harmful. But it will provide a natural experiment on the effect of raising the minimum wage laws that the rest of American can learn from. Anyone who isn’t already convinced that increasing the minimum wage has a detrimental impact on employment and harm minority workers will, in a few years, have solid proof. We will all be able to look to Seattle to see the difference between good, albeit naive, intentions and sound economic policy.

Here are some of the effects I predict the policy will have in the next three years:
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amnesty_no_compromisePeople face tradeoffs. To get one thing that we like, we usually have to give up another thing that we like. That principle is one of the most basic in economics — and yet the most frequently ignored when it comes to public policy. A prime example is the tradeoff that is required on two frequently debated political issues: immigration reform and minimum wage laws.

Many of the same people who support increasing the minimum wage also support increased immigration and amnesty for illegal immigrants. But increases in minimum wage can have a severely detrimental impact on immigrants.

(For the sake of argument, we’ll set aside the question of whether amnesty is a policy that should be promoted and assume that is a policy we’d consider beneficial, at least for illegal immigrants.)

Imagine that Congress passes two laws that take effect on the same day — January 1, 2016 — one granting amnesty to illegal immigrants and the other raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. What would be the result?
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