Our View: Fast food and higher wages

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 1:21 PM

Editorial Board

In several major U.S. cities, including New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, and St. Louis, there have been efforts by fast-food workers, primarily at McDonald’s, to convince their employers to increase the average salary for a non-managerial worker to at least $15 a hour; that would be twice what most employees earn in these jobs. In some cities, there have been symbolic one-day strikes by some fast-food employees.

What’s driving these efforts to increase wages is the still-poor economy. The Great Recession may be officially “over,” but its effects remain. Employers are still not hiring in numbers necessary to boost the economy, a dilemma that former Obama administration economic official Peter Orszag laments in StandardNet (http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/08/14/why-so-little-hiring-so-many-jobs-open-now).

Frankly, a job at McDonald’s or Taco Bell, or any similar employment, has changed. It’s no longer only a job for a teen saving for college, a mission, or a new bicycle. Or, it’s no longer a job for a homemaker who has time to work 20 hours a week to earn money for things other than essentials.

Instead, to many American families, jobs at fast-food restaurants comprise a significant percentage of a family’s income. When that’s factored in, a paycheck of $15 an hour would boosts a family’s income considerably.

However, trying to artificially inflate someone’s wage for altruistic purposes does not work in a capitalist economy. If entry-level workers become too expensive to employ, employers will find alternatives. For example, we would not be surprised to see some employees at fast-food businesses replaced by technology if wages were artificially increased.

It’s not a good idea to double salaries at fast-food places, or other jobs that have traditionally been low-paying opportunities to learn skills. A better solution is to let the economy improve, and urge local and national businesses to get over their jitters and start hiring. McDonald’s, and similar places should remain “training jobs,” positions where teenagers and adults can develop marketable skills — such as reliability and hard work — which will enable them to earn better jobs and much higher wages.

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