Sally wanted to earn some money for presents for her younger siblings. She cleaned out her room and had a rummage sale and invited her classmates. The sale was going well until Sally’s teacher showed up and said that the toys were priced too low, and Sally was not being paid a living wage. Sally’s teacher insisted that all the little toys must be priced with a minimum floor of five dollars each, or else the other children were merely exploiting Sally’s labor.
The children took their money and went home. Sally was out of business. Only the teacher was pleased. She had stopped an injustice. She went home, highly satisfied with herself, making sure to honk twice in support of the picketers who were agitating for minimum wage (they’d been hired as ‘unpaid interns’ by organizing for action).
To me, objecting to government setting minimum wages is actually an ethical stance. As a friend of mine put it, raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars doesn’t force a business to pay you fifteen dollars an hour. It mandates that you find an employer who thinks you are worth fifteen dollars an hour. Well, frankly, an awfully lot of entry level jobs and the people willing to do them just do not bring that much value to the business, so the business owner will not find it worthwhile to hire them. Federally mandating minimum wage marginalizes the most unskilled even further, as it gives incentives to the business to replace them, either with machinery, or with more skilled employees. Because if an employer is forced by law to pay you more than your work produces (or saves) the business, there is not any point to hiring you in the first place.
I’ve seen it happen at the grocery stores my husband used to manage- minimum wage raises in the real world really meant that there were people who were let go because it was no longer worth the time and energy it took to handhold them into being responsible employees who came to work without a phone call and who found work to do without being told. Real human beings the owner had intended to hire were not hired because it was not cost effective- the employees he already had were just give some additional responsibilities.
The employees were let go for cause- they weren’t good workers. But at a lower cost per hour, the boss could justify to himself the time it took to teach and train them with the basic job skills they should have already had, like be nice to customers, comb your hair, clean your fingernails, do not stand around doing nothing, show up on time, don’t leave early, etc. Once minimum wage was raised, he could not justify the costs, so instead of giving reprimands and chats with the boss for missing work, they were fired. They never understood the connection between the fact that they brought nothing of value to the business, the rise in minimum wage, and the loss of their jobs, but it was a real correlation. They were the sorts of people who needed to be able to work for a low enough price the employer could justify hiring them, but they are the first to lose their jobs and the last to be hired in any endeavor. And by ‘sorts’ I am referring to job skills and work ethic, and that’s all.
The employees who were never hired also did not know why they were not hired. They probably just assumed they didn’t ‘pass’ or the position was filled- but in reality, the position was dispensed with- instead of six cashiers, perhaps there were 4. Instead of 3 stockers there was 1, or 2 when the truck came in.
The self serve checkouts, the machines, the technology- are made and serviced by somebody, and those people like jobs, too, so automating at least still employs somebody, somewhere. But there’s a gap, sometimes.
Even though that store did not have automated check out lines, it had missing job positions just as much- they were merely unseen consequences.
The costs trickle up, too, which means everybody’s costs go up.
Even Paul Krugman and the NYTimes once advocated for abolishing the minimum wage, flip flops motivated by obvious naked partisan politics.