An Entrepreneur and the Minimum-Wage

by Don Boudreaux on April 29, 2010

in Prices, Reality Is Not Optional, Regulation, Work

A.G. (who asks me to use, in this post, only his initials) is a regular reader of Cafe Hayek.  He’s 28 years old and is an entrepreneur in Charlotte, North Carolina.  His firm employs 25 people, 21 of whom are low-skilled workers.  A.G. just sent this memo to his employees:

To All Team Members:

The schedule for next week has been posted. You may notice that hours have been cut back on your schedule. This is across the board, not just you. I don’t want anyone to think they’ve done something wrong to deserve a cut in hours, so I wanted to explain why it’s happening.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

1) May and September are very slow months for our business. Anyone who has worked Sundays recently has seen the drop off in traffic. Now that we’re entering May, that drop off will continue on to other days as well, and it will get worse.

2) The recent increase in the minimum wage to $7.25/hour. Since we’ve opened, I’ve had a lot of people ask why they can’t get more hours, and it’s a great question.

I would LOVE to give everyone all the hours they want, and then some. Our customers would be happier across the board, we could accomplish much more every day, our business would grow, I could hire even more people, and on and on. However, we operate on a tight budget just like any other business, and in order to survive, we have to make money. That means our labor cost (the total amount you are all paid) must stay below a certain percentage of our total sales. If it doesn’t, we go broke and everyone loses their jobs.

Our brilliant Congressmen in Washington, D.C. decided a couple years ago that it would be a good idea to raise the minimum wage by about 40% to $7.25/hour. It just took effect last year. That probably sounds like great news for everyone – more money in everyone’s pockets can only be good, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in the real world. If I’m forced to pay everyone 40% more, I can’t afford to schedule as many employees for as many hours, since our sales aren’t going up by 40%. Remember, I can only afford to pay you guys a certain percentage of all the money coming in the door. That means hours get cut, and everyone ends up poorer.

In a perfect world, it should work the opposite way: you should be free to choose how much you think your skills and time are worth (since you know best), and I should be free to pay you whatever that amount is if I want to hire you. Everyone wins in that case. I get as many good employees as I want that I can afford to pay, and you get valuable job training, references, and relationships to carry into the future.

To prove how bad of a deal minimum wage is for you guys as hard-working job-seekers, just look at this way:

I’m not being forced to pay $7.25/hour; YOU are being forced to accept $7.25/hour no matter what, even if you’d be willing to take less in order to get (or keep) a job.

You can thank our elected officials in Raleigh and Washington for sticking you with such a raw deal.

If you have any questions about any of this or want to talk more about it, please feel free to come see me, the door is always open.

(Note: A.G.’s reference to a 40-percent increase in the national minimum-wage seems to refer to that wage’s increase since 2006.  The increase since 2008 is 11 percent; the increase since 2007 is 24 percent.  But even an arbitrary 11-percent increase is enough to lead to the effects that A.G. describes.)

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