Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley recently came out with a study arguing that the low wages of the fast-food industry are a burden on society, since, apparently, more than 50% of fast-food workers rely on public assistance. “A very easy policy fix here would [be] to raise the minimum wage,” says co-author Sylvia Allegretto. That way the fast-food industry would compensate for the “public cost” of their low-wages.
The impression the minimum wage lobbyists want you to get is that the fast-food industry is forcing unjustifiably low-pay on to workers who are powerless to refuse. But the industry is not in any position to set wages arbitrarily. It has to compete for workers by offering wages that reflect the market value of their work. If a business offers people more than they are worth, it will lose money. If it offers people less than they are worth, they will work elsewhere. The cause of low pay in the fast food sector is not industry stinginess, but the fact that these are low-skill, low-experience jobs.
The fast-food industry is not forcing anyone to accept the wages they offer. On the contrary, people accept these wages voluntarily. But by taking entry-level jobs such as these, people can gain the skills and experience needed to land better jobs in the future. It is unjust to insinuate that the fast-food industry makes people dependent on public assistance when it actually gives people a chance of getting out of poverty.
If the government raises the minimum wage, the actual wage for some people will not be $15 or even $8 per hour; it will be $0, since the minimum wage causes some workers to be priced out of the market.
The fast-food industry is not imposing costs on society. The only real “public cost” to the taxpayers is the welfare system itself. If the minimum wage lobbyists are opposed to “public costs” it’s the welfare state they should oppose.