WTH? $20 an hour to flip burgers

Would you like fries with that? Make it quick because my Porche is double parked.

That may be a conversation you hear before too long at your local fast-food joint, assuming you live in California. This week, Gavin Newsom thrilled the liberal Democrats in his state by signing a bill that will raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 per hour beginning on April 1, 2024. Choosing April Fools Day to have the law take effect was probably intentional since the joke will wind up being on the consumers. But Newsom declared that he was “proud” of the work the legislature did on this project and predicted that fairness and equity were sure to follow. 

From AP:

A new law in California will raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 per hour next year, an acknowledgment from the state’s Democratic leaders that most of the often overlooked workforce are the primary earners for their low-income households.

When it takes effect on April 1, fast food workers in California will have the highest guaranteed base salary in the industry. The state’s minimum wage for all other workers — $15.50 per hour — is already among the highest in the United States.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the law Thursday amid a throng of cheering workers and labor leaders at an event in Los Angeles. Newsom dismissed the popular view that fast food jobs are meant for teenagers to have their first experience in the workforce.

I’m sure that workers at fast-food joints around the state are going to be quite happy about this and good for them. You take what you can get in this world, as my father used to say. But that doesn’t make this bill either fair or functional, as the people of California will likely be learning next year. In the eyes of any non-Californian who has ever put in time working a minimum wage job, twenty bucks an hour probably sounds ridiculous, and for good reason. I still recall when the “Fight for 15” was a big thing among Democrats, and even that sounded ludicrous, depending on how it was applied. This just takes things to the next level.

Let’s stop and consider the inherent value of the work being done in various circumstances. Twenty dollars per hour works out to $40,800 per year, assuming a 40-hour work week. (Of course, Democrats are trying to get rid of that also.) The average starting salary for a grade school teacher in California is $47K, but it can be as low as $39K. You can get a job at McDonald’s without a high school degree. Heck, you can get one while you’re still a freshman in high school if you get a work permit. You can learn the required skills on the job and be up and running in no time. A grade-school teacher in the Golden State must have a bachelor’s degree and complete additional certification courses. That adds up to four years of paying for college and probably running up student loan debt in the process. And you will be responsible for the futures of a generation of children while the teenager will be responsible for cleaning the fry machine before going home. Are you really going to go through all of that only to start out earning a few grand more than the burger flipper, or possibly even less depending on which school district hires you? Does that sound remotely reasonable to you?

The broader point I’m trying to make here is that mandating minimum or “equal” pay in the private sector is a self-defeating quest because not all work is equal. Saying that everyone must make a certain amount of money because they are “doing work” is not just preposterous. It’s insulting. And we should also note that this bill only applies to “fast food workers.” The state minimum wage of $15.50 per hour (already among the highest in the country) will still apply to everyone else. So somebody who goes out and starts digging ditches in the broiling California sun could be bringing home only three-quarters as much money as the kid serving him his burger at lunchtime? Seriously?

Then there are the downstream effects on consumers to consider. If you raise your labor costs by 25%, prices are going to have to go up accordingly. And prices are already through the roof across most of the country (thanks, Joe!) but particularly in California where pretty much everything is more expensive. How much of this will the voters in California tolerate before they begin demanding some changes?

Newsom attempted to wave away the idea that fast-food jobs are meant for teenagers to have their first experience in the workforce. He called that a “romanticized version of a world that doesn’t exist.” But while it’s true that there are plenty of adults working in those jobs if they can’t find anything else, that doesn’t make the work any more valuable based solely on the age of the person doing it. You can send a neurosurgeon in his fifties over to shovel my snow this winter and I’m still not going to give him more than ten or fifteen bucks. This is just more California craziness, but I suppose we should be used to it by now.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post