Fast-food walk out ignores basic economics: minimum wage hike creates unemployment

Investors Business Daily explains what’s wrong with the plan of fast-food industry workers to strike for higher wages.


Egged on by unions, fast-food workers plan to strike in dozens of U.S. cities for much higher wages. Sadly, they’re being used to do something that’s not in their own interests.

Sensing the time is ripe, the Service Employees International Union and union-funded front groups are organizing a walkout of workers at fast-food joints in about 100 cities to protest how tough it is to live on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

They’d like that nearly doubled to $15 — and not just for fast food, but retailing and other industries too.

Sounds great. But even by the loopy logic of the left, this is economic insanity and would lead to greater misery, fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for all.

That’s not just our opinion. Economists David Neumark and William Wascher, in their comprehensive book “Minimum Wages,” looked at virtually all the scholarly and statistical evidence worldwide, digging up literally dozens of studies.

Their finding: Minimum wage laws almost always result in a “reduction in employment opportunities for low-skilled” employees while limiting “skill acquisition by reducing educational attainment and perhaps training, resulting in lower adult wages and earnings.”

And, they said, it reduces the total amount of human capital — a huge cost to society.

The minimum wage is so devastating that roughly 85% of all economists in a recent survey — from both the left and the right sides of the spectrum — said they think it’s a bad idea.

[…]The idea that working families depend on these jobs is false. Most of those working for minimum wage are young, ages 16 to 24. They live in middle-class homes with above-average household incomes.

And as James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation notes, two-thirds of minimum-wage earners get a raise in their first year. This is how they learn to show up, work hard and get along with others — valuable life skills young people acquire as they begin work and the very things that will make them a success later on.

A higher minimum wage would cost young workers jobs and opportunities. They’d be wise to ignore the unions’ siren song of higher wages for nothing.

From Investors Business Daily, an article by famous economist Thomas Sowell has more on this issue.


Switzerland is one of the few modern nations without a minimum-wage law. In 2003, the Economist magazine reported: “Switzerland’s unemployment neared a five-year high of 3.9% in February.”

In February of this year, Switzerland’s unemployment rate was 3.1%. A recent issue of the Economist showed Switzerland’s unemployment rate as 2.1%.

Most Americans today have never seen unemployment rates that low. However, there was a time when there was no federal minimum-wage law in the United States.

The last time was during the Coolidge administration, when the annual unemployment rate went as low as 1.8%. When Hong Kong was a British colony, it had no minimum-wage law. In 1991 its unemployment rate was under 2%.

[…]Most people in the lower income brackets are not an enduring class. Most working people in the bottom 20% in income at a given time do not stay there over time. More of them end up in the top 20% than remain behind in the bottom 20%.

There is nothing mysterious about the fact that most people start off in entry-level jobs that pay much less than they will earn after they get some work experience.

But when minimum-wage levels are set without regard to their initial productivity, young people are disproportionately unemployed — priced out of jobs.

In European welfare states where minimum wages, and mandated job benefits to be paid for by employers, are more generous than in the United States, unemployment rates for younger workers are often 20% or higher, even when there is no recession.

Unemployed young people lose not only the pay they could have earned but, at least equally important, the work experience that would enable them to earn higher rates of pay later on.

Minorities, like young people, can also be priced out of jobs. In the United States, the last year in which the black unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate — 1930 — was also the last year when there was no federal minimum-wage law.

Inflation in the 1940s raised the pay of even unskilled workers above the minimum wage set in 1938. Economically, it was the same as if there were no minimum-wage law by the late 1940s.

In 1948 the unemployment rate of black 16-year-old and 17-year-old males was 9.4%. This was a fraction of what it would become in even the most prosperous years from 1958 on, as the minimum wage was raised repeatedly to keep up with inflation.

A survey of American economists found that 90% of them regarded minimum-wage laws as increasing the rate of unemployment among low-skilled workers.

Harvard University economist Greg Mankiw puts the level of opposition to minimum wage hikes at 79% among professional economists across the ideological spectrum.

Learn economics for Christmas

By the way, if you’re looking for a really good drama that shows the business-owner vs union-leader conflict, I really recommend the BBC production of North and South. It’s a beautiful period drama that’s based on a Christian woman’s novel. The author of the book wrote in the time of Charles Dickens, and he even named the book for her. It’s rated 8.7/10 on IMDB. It’s $19.99 on Amazon, although it sometimes goes lower than that! A great way to communicate basic economics to your liberal spouse or significant other – especially on this minimum wage issue. Oh, apparently there is a love story in it, but I didn’t really pay any attention to that part of it, other than to be pleased that there was no sex or nudity at all – not even kissing! Perfect! This DVD is WK-approved. It is also Dina-approved, because she was the one who suggested it to me.

Just to give you an idea of how much I liked it, I tried watching Downton Abbey and stopped after two episodes. It’s boring nonsense. But North and South I rated 9.5/10 and could not stop watching it once I started. There are no wasted scenes, no fluff at all. Everything they did worked to develop the theme of the story. How different it is from the garbage they have in theaters today! The presentation of capitalism is absolutely heroic, and yet the union side is presented sympathetically as well. Of course, if you want to read an economics book instead, then just get Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics“. One of my friends (Letitia) is actually reading that now.

3 thoughts on “Fast-food walk out ignores basic economics: minimum wage hike creates unemployment”

  1. This is my experience with the minimum wage law.
    At 14, I went to work cleaning motel rooms. I was paid $2.85/hr for the work. Meanwhile, the people I worked with that were 18 were subject to the minimum wage law. They made $3.35/hr. We all did the same work, but because of a loophole in the law, I was cheated.
    Even worse, the owners stole the tips out of the rooms.


  2. To be frank, I wouldn’t feel much pity if the owners of these franchises fired striking employees. If they really want to make more money, they need to make themselves more valuable to their present employer.

    Also, thanks for the film recommendation. For some reason, there’s more ironing than ever to do this time of year, and I’ve burned through quite a few lectures of late! Sometimes an intelligent movie/miniseries is just what the ironing taskmistress (ahem) ordered.


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