ALG - Destroying entry level jobs and teen opportunity

Destroying entry level jobs and teen opportunity

By Rick Manning

Fast food restaurants will get the joy of having labor unions stage protests demanding an increase in their worker's wages and more than doubling the overall federal minimum wage this week. 

Everyone wants to make more money, so what could go wrong?

Perhaps it would be wise to ask Food and Commercial Worker Union members in the Washington, D.C. area.  These union members have priced themselves out of jobs as the consuming public is being trained to scan their own food items, cutting out the middle man.  The union workers are so concerned about their dwindling numbers that they are threatening to strike on December 20th with a major complaint being that the implementation of self-scanning technology is eliminating their jobs.

Now the same Big Labor economic geniuses whose demands for ever increasing benefits and wages threaten the grocery clerks very existence are being equally helpful to entry level fast food workers.  Workers who perform low skill functions for a minimum wage or just slightly higher.

At a time when Amazon has built a drone to deliver packages, and hopes to have them operational with full Federal Aeronautics Administration approval within four to five years, it takes little imagination in our current culture to see a fast food restaurant operating with very few personnel.

You punch your order in at a display screen, or in drive thru, Siri's younger, more advanced sister, takes your order showing you the results on the screen.  You put your credit card or cash into the ATM like payment system and drive to the pick-up window where you get your food that comes out when sensors tell the machine you are in place to receive it.  The food gets cooked by a series of machines that put the right patty on the grill, drop just the right amount of fries and automatically puts the appropriate soft drink cup under the right beverage.  A lid is attached and your meal is delivered to you when you drive up.

The restaurant has next to perfect food cost controls, and a labor force that doesn't sleep in on Saturday or shut the restaurant fifteen minutes early because it is slow and they are bored.

Automakers build cars using very exact automation, is it so unreasonable to believe that a burger could be made similarly?

Yet, protestors are going to blithely march around fast food restaurants demanding wages that virtually guarantee mechanized product delivery, a result that has disastrous consequences.

Fast food restaurants are gateway jobs, and are not intended for the vast majority of people to be anything but that – entry level.  This is a great thing. 

Teens learn that they have to get to work on time both from getting pinged by their bosses, and by having to stay late due to the tardiness of a coworker.  Teens learn about this FICA fellow who takes a bunch of their paycheck without their ever seeing a dime, and wonder how their $183.75 check for five, five hour days dwindled down to a mere $135.  And most importantly, teens learn that money to go to the movies, pay car insurance and put gasoline in the car has to be earned by trading time, energy and effort in a value creating way.

The demand that these entry level wage jobs be transformed into "living wage" jobs changes this fundamental dynamic. 

Those positions that do remain will be highly sought after by older, more experience people who never would consider a burger joint job, driving the stereotypically unreliable teen from taking their first step into the American economic workplace.

Already, our nation is seeing a destruction of opportunities for young Americans to enter the workforce which may be why almost two out of three teens aren't even trying to get a job in today's America.

Contrast this with teen expectations forty years ago.  In 1973, the economy was terrible.  Gas lines, oil embargoes, the economy reeling from the impacts of Nixon's wage and price controls, 1973 was a mess for those trying to get a job.  Yet, more than half the teens were in the workforce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 46.9 percent of the teens aged 16-19 in October, 1973 were employed compared to 26.6 percent today. 

When three quarters of your teens are not working either by choice or due to the lack of employment opportunities, something is dramatically wrong.

It would be foolhardy in the face of a youth unemployment crisis to destroy the very entry level jobs that young people depend upon to gain the work experience and basic workplace skills to survive and thrive moving forward.

While doubling the minimum wage sounds like a swell idea on its face, the impact on our nation's youth will be devastating. 

It is time to just say no to those who would destroy our nation's entry level jobs under the mantle of doubling wages at fast food and other retailers.  After all, those jobs are for our teen children.

Rick Manning (@rmanning957) is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.