If you think Gov. Cuomo’s lockdowns were hard on restaurant workers, watch what happens if President Biden and fellow Democrats more than double the federal minimum wage to $15, as they’re pushing to do.
Senate moderates got a guarantee that the hike wouldn’t come while the pandemic rages, but Biden’s $1.9 trillion “relief” bill can still include a slightly delayed increase, with all its job-killing impact.
Sure, hiking wages sounds great: Who doesn’t want a raise? But not if more pay actually costs you your employment.
Fact is, many restaurant owners, and others who employ low-wage workers, will find such a hike simply unaffordable, particularly as they struggle to recover from the pandemic. The federal minimum now is just $7.25; even after adjusting for inflation, the $15 rate would be off the charts — a full 20 percent higher than the previous record, set a half-century ago.
Upshot? Many businesses will wind up closing for good, plain and simple. Others will stay open but only by laying off employees and raising prices. And keep in mind: Even workers who hang on to their jobs will have to pay those steeper prices, which will eat into much of their raise. Great plan.
Meanwhile, more pink slips would be catastrophic right now: Restaurants, hotels and some retailers have already trimmed headcounts by as much as 30 percent, thanks to the pandemic. The leisure and hospitality sector saw 3.8 million jobs vanish last year. Yet the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects the $15 minimum would lead to another 1.3 million jobs lost.
Places with relatively low costs of living would suffer most. States like New York, California and Massachusetts, after all, already have $15 wage floors, or are approaching that level, so they won’t feel such a big punch. (Notably, all three of those states also face unemployment rates far above most of the others.)
Yet in states with lower costs of living — and lower average pay — far more workers earn much less than $15, so more jobs would be subject to the bump, even as the increase delivers a sharper blow to their bosses.
All of which spells Trouble with a capital T: In places like Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana, as much as half of all workers earn $15 or less.
Worst of all, many of those affected will be minorities and others who need their jobs desperately. Why don’t Democrats, and the labor groups that have long pushed for higher minimums, care about that?
There’s more: The CBO predicts the $15 wage would fuel inflation and slow overall economic growth — just as vaccines offer a way out of the COVID-shattered economy. If only there were vaccines for Democrats’ ideas . . .
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