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Should Fast Food Workers in the US Get $15.00/Hr?

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This question originally appeared on Quora.
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Answer by Robert Frost, engineer/instructor at NASA

No, fast food employees should not, all across the nation, be elevated to $15 a hour. There should not be a national minimum salary because the cost of living varies greatly across the states and from suburban to urban areas (an apartment in the suburbs of Houston is about 1/5 the cost of an apartment in New York City). Fifteen dollars an hour in say McAllen, TX would be a nice salary.

Often when people analyze this problem, they only account for the impact of raising the wage of the people currently at minimum wage. But you can't just do that. Obviously you have to also raise the wage of everyone that is below the new minimum wage, but to maintain the healthy ecosystem of employees being compensated for increasing responsibility and skill level, everyone in the organization has to get a raise.

Here's an example of a grocery store (that was my high school minimum wage job). Males were hired in as minimum wage bag boys and females were hired as cashiers at about $2 more. Employees that were good at the job could be promoted to stock person. Good stock persons could become department heads (produce, bakery etc.). Experienced department heads might become assistant managers and assistant managers might eventually become store managers.

If suddenly bag boys and stock persons are making the same salary, no one is going to take on the additional responsibilities of being a stock person and stock persons will not be rewarded for the greater skills they have as compared to the bag boys. This continues on up the line. To be fair, everyone has to get an equal percentage pay raise. Now, we have an environment where a grocery store manager is making more money than an astronaut.
If we double the employment cost of an organization and double the employment cost of its suppliers, how can we not end up with similar increases in the cost of goods? And if we have proportionate costs of goods, have we not just made inflation? The analyses I've seen that say it would not greatly increase the costs of the goods do not address the staircase of employment.

We also have to consider the ripple effects not just within an organization, but across the employment field. If suddenly flipping burgers is worth $15 an hour, how much more will someone have to pay the kid that mows their lawn? How many people will start mowing their own lawn when it turns from a $50 a week expense into a $100 a week expense?

And finally, fast food jobs are not supposed to provide a living wage. They are intended to be part time jobs for students and retired people. If the system is broken and fast food jobs are all some people can find on which to survive, we need to address that breakage -- not put a bandaid on it by crippling the industry.

I don't think the people protesting expect to get $15. In negotiating there are three numbers. There is your MDO (Most Desired Outcome), your goal, and your LAA (Least Acceptable Agreement). $15 is their MDO. They'll be happy with $10.

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