Liberal politicians and media love to profile earnest minimum wage workers who benefit immediately from a minimum wage hike (even if they later lose their jobs because of it, after the media has moved on).
But we never see profiles of the biggest winners from minimum wage hikes: the salespeople whose job is to convince supermarkets, retail stores, and fast food restaurants to install self-service ordering and checkout kiosks.
Self-serve kiosks are no longer rare or remarkable; they are sweeping across America–and every time the minimum wage is increased, these technologies become more cost-competitive versus human workers.
In public documents, the companies selling these self-service machines tout their accuracy, ease of use, customer satisfaction, and various other features that are said to make them a wise investment.
But what these companies do not want to be seen promoting is how much labor they save – i.e., how many employees they make it possible to eliminate.
Consider an actual supermarket in Bethesda, Maryland. It has a sticker on its front door proudly proclaiming it has a unionized workforce.
The store has one employee bag groceries for every two traditional checkout lanes. So, for example, to check out six people at once, it used to employ six cashiers and three baggers, for a total of nine employees.
Then recently, over the course of a few days, it installed a group of self-service checkout machines. This cluster of six machines allows six customers to check out simultaneously, with…get this…just one employee monitoring them.
In the course of one week, this proud union shop had eliminated the need for eight workers per shift.
And the kiosk salesperson had scored another commission.
Think of all the self-service machines you saw in 2014. Now chew on the fact that 21 states have increased their minimum wage since New Year’s Eve, making those machines instantly more cost-competitive.
To be clear: there is nothing dishonorable about these salespeople or the stores that add these machines. Labor-saving devices – from the automobile to the dishwasher to the computer – are a basic feature of human progress and should be applauded.
The problem comes when government mandates like the minimum wage artificially hasten the adoption of labor-replacing devices, particularly in the midst of our ongoing underemployment crisis, with our nation experiencing the lowest labor force participation rates in three decades.
Rather than face this issue, many have their heads in the sand.
In the New York Times last summer, an article waxed eloquent about a burrito chain called Boloco. The Times noted how Boloco pays even its newest, least-efficient employee more than the minimum wage, in contrast to other fast food brands that were portrayed as stingy. The co-founder of Boloco was quoted as saying: “If we’re talking about building a business that’s successful, but our employees can’t go home and pay their bills, to me that success is a farce.” He even appeared at a photo op with Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and called for a minimum wage hike, saying that paying his workers more than minimum wage was “a no-brainer.”
But missing from the fawning media was one significant fact: Boloco uses self-ordering kiosks to reduce the need for paid employees.
Last year, for example, in its Bethesda location, not far from the supermarket mentioned above, Boloco typically had one cashier available to take orders–and four self-serve ordering kiosks. So to move five people through the line simultaneously, Boloco did not employ five workers; it employed one.
The kiosk vendor promotes its work for Boloco in materials that hint gently at the labor-replacement value of self-service machines: “Boloco wanted to keep its emphasis on guest service, without having to exponentially increase staff.” But don’t worry; it quotes a Boloco Vice President reassuring us that “Kiosks . . won’t ever 100 percent replace our cashiers. . . .”
By the way, Boloco just closed its Bethesda and Washington, DC outlets. It gave all of its now-unemployed former workers four weeks severance.
Now imagine Bethesda’s labor-replacing mechanization being replicated nationwide, and you have a sense of how our existing unemployment crisis is about to get a whole lot worse for low-skilled workers and the unemployed.
Gallup’s CEO recently posted an essay that called the official 5.6% unemployment rate “The Big Lie,” noting that “as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed.” With government-mandated wage hikes fueling the accelerating wave of self-service kiosks that will take over fast food restaurants, supermarkets, and dollar stores, many more Americans are about to be added to that figure. As union agitators promise fast food workers that they are soon going to make $15 per hour, many are actually headed to $0 per year.
Of course, mechanization is inevitable, over time. Machines get cheaper, and their quality improves. New jobs will emerge to replace many of the old ones lost.
At the same time, people must improve their skills to survive in this new economy. But instead of having a national conversation about the need for struggling Americans to get to work on improving their skills, we continue to debate endlessly the notion that politicians can wave a magic minimum wage wand and deliver pain-free higher salaries to these workers.
American workers desperately need leaders focused on policies to strengthen our economy, improve our schools, speed economic growth, and create new jobs. In the meantime, there are probably more than a few self-serve kiosk salespeople rooting instead for more minimum wage hikes.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom