Today fast food workers are striking in several US cities according to USA Today. “Naquasia LeGrand, 22, of Brooklyn, says this was her sixth strike since 2012… “These corporations are taking everything from us. They are making all this money.”
Like many Americans I have worked jobs for minimum wage, and once was held up at gun point for the trouble. But also like many Americans, I got an education and developed skills that were worth much more to an employer than minimum wage. And even as I approach the mid-century mark I’m still learning. I recently added a skill to my resume that should make me even more attractive to potential employers in the future.
If Ms. LeGrand used the time she spent on striking (6 strikes in 2 years? I doubt UAW workers struck that much back in the ‘70s) to learn marketable skills instead of striking she wouldn’t have to worry about the government setting her wage; she would be able to set her own.
And that brings up a second point. Ms. LeGrand and her striking comrades betray a failure to grasp basic economics when they say corporations are “making all this money.” According to Entrepreneur less than half of food franchise earn profits of more than $50,000 per year. This may sound like a lot to someone earning minimum wage, but it’s not when you factor in start up costs of $500,000 to $1,000,000. To get that start up capital fast food franchisees often cash in their 401ks and borrow against their homes. If their store goes bust it’s not Subway or McDonalds who loses their retirement nest eggs and homes. Risking financial ruin for $50k a year doesn’t seem worth it to me, especially when considering the long hours franchise owners put in often working for free.
There’s something wrong with making a career out of minimum wage jobs. These jobs are meant to be a starting point in one’s working life and provide supplemental income for those who have retired and want to remain active. They provide flexible hours that students and retirees need but those in their working prime don’t, and teach basic skills like customer service and basic professionalism that are needed in better paying jobs. Unionizing might appeal to union bosses whose salaries come out of the checks of workers, but it shouldn’t to anyone who wears a name tag and says “Would you like to supersize that?” as part of their job.
Update: Some in favor of raising the minimum wage point out the average age of a minimum wage earner is 35, and 36% are 40 or over. What they don’t say is the number of retirees making the wage, which would skew the average age upward, nor do they state the median age of a minimum wage worker. Another useful statistic would be the average length of time these older workers spend earning minimum wage.
We are not a feudal society. There is social mobility between classes. Instead of providing anecdotal evidence of 35 year old mothers of 4 making minimum wage they should determine why these people are making minimum wages in the first place. If they are stuck earning minimum wage, figure out why. Do they lack education? Adequate child care? Are they recovering from addictions or returning to society after being imprisoned?
If we as a society want to improve the lot of the working poor, we shouldn’t be flooding the market with low-skilled immigrants who compete for the jobs of American citizens and keep wages low. Yet the very same voices calling for a higher minimum wage are the ones calling for amnesty for illegal immigrants.