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Section A: General News


Editorial: Higher wages for fast-food workers won’t solve problem




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About politics and other things
September 4, 2013 | 1,243 views | Post a comment

Economics professor Dr. George Bittlingmayer commented on www.forbes.com that the low fast-food employee wages were a symptom of a larger problem: the U.S. educational system. “Low wages for adults are a sign that something didn’t go right in terms of education and work experience. We’re not addressing the cause.”

It was all over the news last week about fast-food workers going on strike demanding higher wages, as if doubling their minimum wage would solve all their problems. One woman interviewed thought so; she was going to support the strike. An Associated Press article tells Shaniqua Davis’ story. She is on government assistance and, I’m sure, would be even if she got a raise to $15 an hour.

Her boyfriend is unemployed and she has a 1-year-old baby. She wanted to be able to “buy stuff” for her baby. OK. There are several red flags here. She is 20, unmarried, and has a baby. Her boyfriend is unemployed. All these are problems systemic in our society, many of which result from choices made.

Unfortunately, what Shaniqua doesn’t realize is that the $15 minimum wage likely would only exacerbate her problems, many of which result from choices made. If her wages were suddenly to be doubled, for instance, a couple of things could happen.

One is that the price of that convenient little hamburger might have to be increased in order to cover the additional overhead of higher wages.

Another more real possibility is that workers’ hours could be cut back even more. Instead of scheduling Shaniqua for 30 hours a week, they could cut her hours back to only 15 in order to save on the bottom line.

To compensate for fewer human hours worked, it’s likely that the fast-food industry will strive to incorporate even more automated systems, making production more efficient and requiring fewer employees. Other employees would likely lose jobs completely, making it even more unlikely that her boyfriend ever would find employment.

All this would be coming at a time when the American work force already is being diverted from higher-paying long-term employment to becoming a work force of part-time, temporary workers. Even college graduates are moving back home and accepting lower-paying jobs unrelated to their degrees.

This trend has been accelerated by the looming demands and uncertainty of Obamacare. Higher minimum wages would only further the trend toward a part-time work force of lower-paid employees.

A cause such as “living wages” preys on people’s emotions without thinking through the consequences of their demands. “Workers say they want $15 an hour.” That’s an interesting statement because there is a big difference between wanting a wage and earning it.

We know that working in the fast-food industry provides entry-level jobs that allow young people to get jobs and gain experience. It also helps now when people are under-employed. If they choose to maintain a level of independence without government welfare, they may have to take two or three entry-level jobs just to make ends meet. Their goal is not to make a career of that entry-level job, but to use it as a step up. Even within the fast-food industry, there are advancements and promotions that come with experience.

I agree with Dr. Bittlingmayer in that we are not addressing the real problem, but perhaps not the way the professor thinks. While we push for student loans and getting everyone to college, we may be missing the bigger problem. If we continue to educate everyone for highly skilled, higher-paying professional careers, who will be left to flip our burgers, do the plumbing, fix our cars, care for the fields, and raise our crops?

It does seem that something is wrong, but simply doubling minimum wages will not solve the problem.
 

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