Proponents of a $15 per hour minimum wage should be careful what they wish for. For some, it will amount to a 50 percent pay raise from $10 to $15 per hour. But for others, it will mean a 100 percent pay reduction as their job is replaced by technology.
Recently I visited a popular “fast-casual café” chain and was surprised to see that in place of the cashiers were ordering kiosks – essentially tablet PC’s with credit card readers attached. From the easy-to-use prompts and beautiful pictures of the menu items, to the available nutritional information and sandwich customization options (no tomatoes, thank you), I ordered and paid for my lunch without speaking to another human. After ordering, I found a seat and displayed my receipt that was printed at the kiosk. A few minutes later a smiling employee brought my soup and sandwich (as ordered, with no tomatoes) to my table on her way to delivering several other meals as well. I thought to myself “Welcome to every fast food restaurant in the future.”
It’s simply a matter of economics. Assume a tablet PC and card reader cost $500 each in bulk. A 40-hour work week at $15 per hour is $600. With no sick time, no health care benefits, no dealing with withholding taxes and payroll services, no training issues and no personnel management needed, technology will continue to replace entry level jobs in more and more businesses.
And therein lies the problem. Many of us learned important life skills working entry level customer-facing jobs. Responsibility. Dealing with others. Customer service. Promptness. Courtesy. How to make change for a twenty.
Two years ago the minimum wage was $8 per hour. Today it is $10. A move to $15 will represent nearly a doubling of labor costs in just a few years, and accelerate the move away from cashiers and toward ordering kiosks and the reduction of labor.
I oppose an increase in the minimum wage not with malice toward those who would get a 50 percent raise, but rather, with empathy for those who will see a 100 percent pay reduction.