You’re Lucky Workers Are Only Asking for $15 an Hour
It’s time to question the flawed conventional wisdom driving the minimum wage debate
I was 16 when I got my first job at a McDonald’s in upstate New York. It was the fall of 2014; I was paid $8 an hour. It was around this time that I started thinking of my purchases in terms of time. A gallon of milk was around $3, slightly less than half an hour of labor. The cost of the average meal at McDonald’s was around $7, meaning that when a customer ordered a large Big Mac meal, they were spending what would take me just under an hour to earn. It would cost about $35 to fill up my car with gas — around four and a half hours of labor.
In January of 2015, New York state raised the minimum wage from $8 to $8.75, and our general manager responded by cutting every crew member’s hours significantly. The mid-tier managers would say stuff like, “I’m sorry, but because they increased the minimum wage, we can’t afford to give everyone the same hours.”
For the next week or so, everyone was working so few hours that they were actually making less at the $8.75 hourly rate than they would’ve been making under their full schedule at $8. The lesson from management was clear: Raising the minimum wage was actually bad because businesses would be forced to cut hours.
So much of what we learn about a minimum wage increase is bullshit.
After about two weeks or so, however, everyone’s hours went back to normal. The timing of the minimum wage increase just so happened to coincide with a decline in business. As I would later learn, the week or two after the winter holidays was always the slowest part of the year at our store. Busy holiday shoppers were no longer stopping off at McDonald’s to get quick food, and for the beginning of January, people were still attempting to stick by their New Year’s resolutions of eating healthy. Turns out, the cutting of our hours was due to a natural, predictable dip in business.
Fast forward a year. I was 17, still working at McDonald’s, and the minimum wage has just lifted again from $8.75 to $9. It is, in hindsight, a remarkably tiny improvement, but once again, the general manager responded by cutting…