Tag Archives: unskilled jobs will never pay high wages

The Problem with Raising Fast-Food Workers’ Wages

Robots at McDonald's

Fast food workers are requesting that minimum wage rates should roughly double to $15/hr.  Yet, what is likely to happen is that many of today’s workers will simply be replaced by machines and automated processes.

automated McDonald's ordering

Some McDonald’s restaurants are employing robots in the kitchen, while others are creating automated order-taking.  Automated order-taking, alone, can replace one worker.

There is an inherent conflict between the way workers look at wages, and the way employers  look at wages.

From the worker’s point of view, the amount of his paycheck determines his entire standard of living. Even if a worker doesn’t produce enough output to justify his salary, his family still requires the same amount of food to stay healthy.

Conversely, from an employer’s point of view, he is forced to pay wages and salaries based ONLY on the economic value of each employee’s ACTUAL work, and labor is only ONE cost of running his business. His total production costs (including labor) MUST be kept well below the amount the public is willing to pay for his product, or he will quickly go OUT of business.

Increased labor costs have always been the driver of technological change.  “No trade union, however powerfully organized, can FORCE employers to go on paying higher wages than their workers are worth to them.” (Gertrude Williams: The Economics of Everyday Life. London, 1976).

When either workers or unions demand wages that exceed the worker’s value, the employer has two choices.   He can CUT BACK the workforce (by employing fewer people, OR by going out of business); or he can FIND NEW METHODS THAT REQUIRE FEWER WORKERS (new technology, automation, new processes). This is the current situation taking place in the fast food industry in the United States.

The important thing here is that fast-food jobs are not, and have never been intended to pay a “living wage” for a family wage-earner.  The reason teachers and parents place so much emphasis on learning to read and write well is that, for those who never become proficient enough to make it through college, these are the only sorts of jobs now available.    These jobs need to be looked at as temporary jobs or unskilled jobs which will never pay high wages.

Many of those adults who are in these jobs full-time and for many years are probably the same students who didn’t do well in school (or who didn’t care to put in the effort), and those are now the only jobs they can get.  Should their wages be raised to the equivalent of a skilled carpenter, who has to be a math whiz and have years of experience?  I don’t think so.

There are many reasons why people are stuck in these low-wage jobs, but society needs to stop blaming the employers, and start holding students and workers accountable for developing their reading and writing skills, and for making responsible life decisions.  Sometimes people have bad luck, but we all need to remember that, “Good luck equals preparation (good skills) + opportunity.” –Seneca (Ancient Roman Stoic Philosopher)

–Lynne Diligent