Are Cheeseburgers Worth As Much As Babies?

I have been reading a lot about the protests going on, apparently throughout the United States, where fast food workers want to make a minimum of $15 per hour.  Last week here in Detroit, a bunch of workers protested, and 25-30 got arrested after they took to the streets…literally, by blocking traffic on major thoroughfares during the morning rush hour.

I have to be perfectly blunt on where I stand with this issue, and it’s not at all with the workers.  Before you paint me as some heartless scumbag, let me outline my reasons.

  1. You lost me when you shut down traffic – If workers wanted to gather and demonstrate to get media attention, fine.  But when they shut down traffic, sorry, you lost me.  The people whom they were blocking traffic for were regular people just trying to get to their jobs.  And, the demonstrators made it so that they couldn’t.  Innocent people with no skin in the game became collateral damage to those looking to make a point that could have been made without negatively affecting other people.  I equate this to people in traffic that pull out in front of other people before traffic clears, because they don’t want to wait a spot.  You shouldn’t make your problem other people’s problem.
  2. A real world comparison – Somebody I know worked at a day care facility taking care of a room full of toddler age children.  She worked there for seven years and was barely making $11 per hour.  She left that job to go to one that paid closer to $15, which she got only after negotiating.  Sorry, but you’ll never convince me that taking care of children all day, being instrumental in their development, and overseeing their well being for a huge chunk of their young lives is worthy of less compensation than working in a fast food environment.
  3. The market does not and can not bear $15 – If fast food companies could not find enough qualified people to work at lower wages, then the wages would go up. Pure and simple.  But, since they can find plenty of applicants to work at lower wages, free market theory indicates that there’s no rational economic reason for $15 to be paid.
  4. Paying $15 would mean job losses – Simple cause and effect tells me this: If fast food minimum wages went up to $15, prices would go up.  If prices go up, people would buy less fast food.  If people bought less fast food, restaurants would close.  If restaurants close, workers lose their job.  Bottom line, there’s no way the market could simply absorb these costs without a portion of workers going from what they make today to zero.
  5. No company has a responsibility to provide employees with a standard of living – The basic premise behind the $15 number is that the current minimum wage is not high enough for a worker to support themselves.  I don’t dispute that.  In fact, simple math tells me it’s true.  But, where is it the responsibility of the fast food companies to provide this?  Call me heartless, but the fact of the matter is that any company is expected to provide fair wages for the work performed.  That’s what I get.  While it so happens that I do make enough to support my family, what if that changed?  What if there was an illness and we couldn’t afford treatment on my salary?  Do I have a right to march in and demand more money?  Of course not.  What if my wife and I decided to take after the Duggan’s and shoot for 19 kids?  Would I go into my bosses office after each birth and demand a raise?  No.  That’s silly.

The point is that while $10 per hour (roughly the minimum wage) is peanuts compared to some of the costs, I don’t think that simply demanding an industry specific artificial prop is the answer.  There are other ways that each person has to work through and take personal responsibility for making the decisions about:

  • Reduce expenses – I’d be interested to see how many of the protesters have smart phones with high data plans with which they go to social media to propegate their ’cause’.
  • Side hustle – There are other ways to make money when you’re not at work.  Cut grass, shovel snow, clean windows, write a blog, or any other number of things.
  • Second jobs – When I hear stories about my parents and grandparents generations, there are multiple stories of people who worked multiple jobs.  It’s hard, it can be grueling, but it’s what people have done when the first job isn’t enough.

Personally, I hearken the whole thing to the Occupy Wall Street movement of a few years ago, as the common theme is trying to take ones problems and project them to others in order to gain a solution, rather than working the solution themselves.  I just can’t get behind that especially when it involves, you know, blocking traffic.

Readers, what do you think about the whole uprising going on for $15 per hour wages?


16 thoughts on “Are Cheeseburgers Worth As Much As Babies?”

  1. So as a disclaimer, I’m definitely a left-leaning person so it’s pretty hard to convince me we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage (I understand that this protest is collective action to raise the wage of these workers, but in general I support their cause). For starters, doing so raises the bar for EVERYONE. E.g. historical collective action from unions have done things like made weekends standard in professional work. And note making a minimum wage of $15 for everyone wouldn’t just keep other workers slightly above that at a static level, those would also rise from below.

    Note there are also benefits to business as well that pay higher wages. For one, they can actually RETAIN employees. That means hiring higher quality workers, not just because more high quality workers would be attracted to $15/hr than $7.50, but also because giving people livable income means that they don’t have to take a second job, increasing their productivity, giving them more open hours to dedicate at a single establishment, allowing them to stress less and thus be better employees as well as happier people.

    “The market does not and can not bear $15.” — So your evidence/explanation here indicates that companies are unwilling to pay higher wages when they can get lower wage workers for cheap. That is, to be nitpicky, not the same as the market being unable to bear $15/hr.

    There are fast food establishments that pay much higher than the minimum wage for their employees, and even provide tracks for advancement to INCREASE that wage. Best instance I can think of is In N Out, which is by no means a struggling company.

    “Paying $15 would mean job losses.” — This is almost certainly true. The trade-off here is it would also mean that those fewer jobs would be of higher quality. And that we’d reduce the size of the underemployed/poorly paid, i.e. those who work and thus less able to receive assistance despite actually doing shit. Instead, they’d have available other govt. assistance without having to deal with the low time/benefit ratio of ill-paid work.

    “No company has a responsibility to provide employees with a standard of living.” Perhaps not, but we as a society should decide if we are OK with people working 40 hours a week (probably more than 60-80 if you consider commute time between their two or three part time jobs) and STILL being unable to make ends meet / being low income enough to need govt. assistance. I personally am not okay with that, and so I support collective actions like this and legislation that would increase the minimum wage.

    • Thanks for the detailed response. Bottom line, I don’t think you and I will persuade each other, we see things differently, which I’m OK with. For me, it basically boils down to the fact that I don’t think that arbitrarily raising the wages for a select group of people in a workable or advisable strategy. If at some point the market naturally were to ‘get’ the wages to $15/hr for these workers, I’d have no problem with that. I just have a problem with a number being thrown out there because workers in that industry figured that it’d be nice to make that money.

  2. I’m with you on this one – as soon as you become a disruption, your credibility circles the bowl. Imagine if they spent as much time and energy working to improve their education and skill set to get a better job instead of protesting trying to get the government to force their employer to give them a life upgrade for free.

    • I’m sure a lot of people in the fast food industry do work hard and try to better themselves, and that there is success and failure within that group. I know it’s not as easy as just telling every fast food worker to go back to school and get more education…that’s too blanket a statement.

      • Many fast-food workers ARE going back to school and getting more education. That’s why they’re fast-food workers: the jobs tend to offer flexible hours that college students can work around their course schedules.

        So…what choice to these workers have other than disruption to draw attention to their ridiculously low wages and to demand improved pay and working conditions? If they politely say, “Mr. McDonald, please: may I have more pennies,” will they get a raise?

        And I’m not persuaded that responsible employers have no duty toward their employees. Some of us feel an ethical obligation to treat employees fairly and give them a fair slice of the pie, and regard that as good for business. See, for example, Henry Ford and the five-dollar workday.

        • If I said they have ‘no duty’, that was extreme, but what I really mean is that they do not have the duty to promise a certain standard of living. Their responsibility is to provide a fair wage.

  3. I think everyone should be paid a fair wage for what they do. Flipping burgers doesn’t require a lot of skill and therefore doesn’t have a high salary tied to it.

    My biggest issue though is how this would effect everyone else. If a job that requires no college education earns $15/hr, what about the person that went to college and is working in an entry-level position for $15/hr? Shouldn’t they then get a raise too? If yes, they the salary of everyone will need to increase. When this happens, inflation occurs which means the prices for all of the good and services will also increase, resulting in a zero net benefit. Yes you are now earning $7 more per hour, but a loaf of bread now costs $8.

    To me, if you want higher pay, go out and earn it. Show the boss why you are more valuable than $7/hr. Ask to learn a new position or skill.

  4. It’s difficult for people to live on minimum wage. Of course, that wage needs to increase to keep up with inflation. With that said, it’s a job that’s not supposed to be permanent. A person who is hired for a minimum wage job shouldn’t be working that same job years later. If they have limited choices and stay in the fast-food business, fine, but look into management positions. Be the absolute best employee ever and move up in the ranks.

    I can’t help but think it’s all about personal choices; some people make good ones and others have a hard time distinguishing between good and bad and make more bad choices than good. I try to instill this idea into my middle school students!

  5. What a disappointing blog post. $15 an hour is $30K a year…try raising a family on that. Don’t know if you meant to or not…but your post comes across as “smug”. I have never worked fast food and am thankful for that. But as a landlord I see the struggles of everyday people trying to make it on $10/$11 an hour and it’s sad to witness. Do yourself a favor and do this exercise , which both my children were required to do in high school. Write yourself a budget based on the minimum wage….transportation…health care…food …child care…electric….heat….phone…clothing…and if you desire tuition and books at a community college to acquire “marketable skills”…My DD’s did this exercise and were astounded….I think you will be too…..

    • Sorry my post disappointed you, but go back and read it again. I addressed the issues that you raised in your comment. I think you’re confusing ‘being smug’ with ‘being realistic’ which is the angle I took on my post. If you read my post, I acknowledged that $30k a year is not going to be enough for the average family to stay above water…but as I referenced in my post, that doesn’t fall on the shoulders of the employee. I’ve looked at many job postings and applied for many different jobs throughout my career. I challenge you to go find a posting anywhere where it promises that the job will provide for a certain standard of living. It’s probably impossible because it’s just not a reasonable expectation! The employer is there to run a business, and if they need employees, they are there to provide employees with fair wages. I know you will likely not agree, but if the wages being paid allow the employers to run their operations, then the current wages are fair. As far as your challenge to create a budget, I won’t do it because I completley agree with you, it’s not sustainable for the long term. But, 100 years ago when people in my grandparents generation were coming to America without a penny to their name, were there people waiting to give them jobs simply because they didn’t have one? Were the jobs they got given with some understanding that they would be able to instantly ‘make it’ to a certain standard of living. No. You can call me smug or express disappointment all you want, but the reality of how things work hasn’t changed in the last 100 years (or further), what has changed are expectations on what is owed and who owes it.

      • I did read your article again and you’re right we won’t agree. You compare today to 100 years ago …times have changed. Not so long ago a person could come out of high school and get a good paying factory job, raise a family, send the kids to college, etc. Now those jobs are in China or are automated. So what are these folks to do? Work 2..3…4 jobs? Who raises their kids when they’re working all these jobs. Just for kicks look up what the “brass” at McDonalds makes and then compare that to the average wage of a McDonalds employee. Here’s where I’m at….when I got out of high school minimum wage was $2.10/hr. and gasoline was 32 cents a gallon. A ratio of one hours work earned almost 7 gallons of gas. Today gas is $3.50 a gallon and minimum wage is $7.50. An hours work earns 2 gallons of gas. My thought is this is no equitable or fair….

        • Yes, I did compare today to 100 years ago, largely in part because the things I referenced that happened 100 years ago provided much of the foundation of what made the USA the strong country that it became. I think that should be embraced and not discounted.

  6. My point is always going to be “Where does it end?” $20/hr.? Why not $25?
    $50? There will always be someone thinking that they “deserve” more but at some point the number just gets ludicrous. In addition, the people that want a wage increase don’t understand it hurts them in the long run as companies increase prices on the consumer to make up for the amount they are paying out in wages. So even if you are making more you end up spending more for goods and services.

    • Agreed, the 50% wage increase would just fuel inflation so that the ‘true’ increase would be much less, and all the while jobs would be lost along the way, making many people much worse off.

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