Fast food for thought

Last week, in seven cities across the country — New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City and Flint, Mich. — rallies were held demanding that the minimum wage for fast-food workers be super-sized to $15 per hour. Many workers walked off the job to show support for doubling the current minimum wage. The idea in theory is that these employees deserve a living wage.

What’s lost in that theory is that in general, jobs at McDonald’s or Burger King are not supposed to be the end-all be-all of one’s employment hopes and dreams. Fast-food jobs, like many other jobs in this country, are more specifically designed to be the starting point for the work experience. The next time you’re at the counter or the drive-thru window, look closely and you’ll generally see somebody young — high school or college age — gaining the valuable skills needed to later embark on a more satisfying career. Showing up on time. Taking directions. Working with others. Dealing with customers. These are all basic necessities that must be learned to attain future success in just about every field.

Even with the current minimum wage, youth unemployment statistics are staggering. Through April, the national unemployment rate for those ages 16 to 24 was 16.1 percent, more than double the overall national rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those ages 16 to 19, the rate was a whopping 24.1 percent. Here in Nevada, the 16-to-24 rate for 2012 was 17.6 percent, and the 16-to-19 rate was a dismal 25.6 percent.

Young, inexperienced workers — like the ones found in many fast-food establishments — have been hit hardest by joblessness. Doubling the minimum wage or even modestly raising it will only exacerbate that problem as businesses either stop hiring or worse yet cut back further on staffing.

A report on the Fox Business website took note of a study done by economists at Cornell University and American University, diving into President Barack Obama’s proposal earlier this year to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour. That shift upward of $1.75 per hour, the study stated, would eliminate 467,000 jobs. Furthermore, the Economic Policies Institute said the study showed that “the higher minimum wage would not reduce poverty, as a majority of beneficiaries live in households with incomes above the poverty level,” and that it would disproportionately harm minorities.

So, rather than relief, there are massive job eliminations and no positive effect on poverty. Imagine what a shift upward of $7.25 per hour would do. And that’s before getting into how much more the food would cost for consumers, some of whom would stop visiting these establishments, which would then have to let more people go.

All this presents a rich irony: Many of those who rail against eating fast food are now the same ones arguing for massive wage inflation, a dilemma highlighted by conservative blogger and Twitter sensation David Burge (@iowahawkblog) in a recent tweet: “McDonalds food will kill you and should be banned. Also, they don’t pay their workers enough.”

That, in a nutshell, displays the choice. Do you want the workers to have jobs? Or do you want to shut the fast-food joints down? Choose wisely.

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