Here's How Every Argument Against a Minimum Wage Hike is Bullshit

In Depth

No currently-legal profession takes more public crap for demanding to be treated like human beings than food service workers. Here’s how and why every single argument against them is complete horseshit.

Though a minimum wage hike, when it happens (and it’s ultimately a case of when, not if), should apply to all professions across the board, fast food workers have—perhaps surprisingly—been the primary force behind the recent drive for more equitable pay structures. Because of this, it’s not surprising that the majority of arguments against raising the minimum wage are directed squarely at food service workers. With Fight For $15 gaining ground lately, it’s important we point out all of the arguments against an increase in the minimum wage, if only so we get in some practice pointing out why they’re so spectacularly wrong.

So how about we do that?

“Raising the minimum wage would be the death-knell of small businesses and restaurants!”

It cannot be stated enough times: if your business model depends on not having to pay your employees a living wage, said business model is hopelessly broken and deserves to fail. That fact is unambiguously clear. What’s less clear is why, if a general minimum wage hike actually would be so abjectly terrible for businesses, the restaurant trendline is moving away from the existing model—reliant on tips—and towards one built around a higher base wage.

Conservatives love to throw out scare quotes on this point in particular, but they’re full of sound and fury, signifying douchery. Remember all those stories about how restaurants were closing like crazy in Seattle in the wake of the city passing its landmark $15/hour minimum wage increase? Yeah, those were bullshit—no more restaurants were closing than normal, and the ones that did had nothing to do with the wage hike. It should’ve been easy to tell that, though; Republicans showed their hand when they started touting restaurant closures before the wage actually even started to go into effect. Unless those propagating this argument had access to Dr. Emmett Brown’s Delorean and just weren’t telling us, I can’t see a reason we ever should have taken them seriously. It’s hard to say whether conservatives making this point thought the rest of us were too dumb to notice or whether they were actually dumb enough to believe it themselves. Tough call there.

Also worth noting: Seattle’s minimum wage increase—like every other significant wage hike, both actual and proposed—phases in gradually over a period of years. Small businesses in particular are given more leeway and longer deadlines in order to get up to wage snuff—a caveat that resulted in McDonald’s filing a laughable lawsuit based on the “discrimination” they were facing. You poor little corporate juggernaut, you.

That’s where we really hit the rub with this argument: those making it, at least in a professional capacity, don’t give one tin shit about actual small businesses. The only economic interests that matter to them are, unsurprisingly, their own. We can’t really fault them for that—corporate entities must by their very nature act in stark, uncompromising self-interest or else perish from the Earth. But it’s still important to remember that raising the minimum wage ultimately really only hurts one group: major corporations and the assholes in charge of them.

Frankly, good. Unbelievably rich executives at major corporations have been destroying the country and stepping on everyone else for so long they’re lucky we don’t just cook and eat them at this point. With a few exceptions (Bill Gates, for example, who has genuinely used his money to make the world a better place and convinced other billionaires to do the same—good job, Bill!), these are not people anyone should be aspiring to for any reason. Many of them are legacy idiots with the organizational and management abilities of a heavily-drugged cat-herder. Many more are remorseless sociopaths who would light poor people on fire just so they could laugh as they ran around screaming. That’s not an exaggeration—I’m pretty sure a lot of them would actually enjoy that. It’s also worth noting that America would find it significantly easier to pay for a staggering number of different things (universal health care, fixing our crumbling infrastructure, subsidized secondary education) if corporations were actually made to pay the amount of taxes they currently manage to escape using subsidies and loopholes.

These are the people you’re holding up as paragons, America: some of the worst our culture and our civilization has to offer. Fuck corporations and the people in charge of them, for now and for always. And if the issue here is ultimately about the potential damage to franchisees (the “small businesses” according to their logic), maybe McDonald’s should think about changing their batshit insane franchise agreements.

“But then menu prices will go up and average Americans won’t be able to afford to buy cheap meals!”

This is the favorite talking point of major corporations themselves, and as such, it should be taken with an entire Morton’s factory worth of salt. We also saw it a lot when the ACA passed, with “we can’t afford to provide health care for our employees!” arguments from such luminary dickbags as ambulatory cursed Madame Tussaud’s figure John Schnatter of Papa John’s and thrill-killing human chia pet Jimmy-John Liautaud of Jimmy John’s.*

Fortunately, it’s an easy enough point to refute: much like with the ACA, where Schnatter was widely mocked for threatening that the cost of pizzas might have to rise an astronomical 17 cents (!!!!!!!!111!!!1one), actual cost to the customer with an increase in minimum wage is remarkably negligible. This is due to a variety of factors, but the biggest one is that increased wage costs are offset by the dramatically decreased cost and corresponding boost to efficiency that comes with reducing turnover. The fact that that consumers wouldn’t face a significant financial burden as a result of increased wages has been repeatedly borne out in studies like one from Purdue University that showed that the average cost of a Big Mac would rise by all of 22 cents. This also isn’t particularly surprising considering the UMass-Amherst study which found that a wage increase from $7.25/hour to $15/hour, phased in over a period of four years, would have little to no impact on the fast food industry’s profit margins in general.

The staggeringly nonsensical counterpoint you hear here as pertains to eateries is “well, that must be wrong because restaurants must have calculated exactly what they can afford to charge and that’s what they’re now charging, if they charge twelve cents more, their business will die.” I can only assume this argument is born from either blind stubbornness or toxic mold inhalation. Restaurants (and in particular fast food eateries) raise their prices incrementally all the time, and the vast majority of them still have extremely healthy profit margins. Customers will tolerate a price increase due to inflation or supply chain issues, but won’t tolerate one due to employer-provided health care or wage increases? To anyone making this argument, answer me this: can you honestly say that you or anyone you know (leaving aside weirdo outliers like your Great Aunt Mildred who loses her shit when a penny goes into the couch cushions) would be deterred from a fast food meal you/they otherwise wanted because of a price increase of 22 cents?

If you can say that, you’re a fucking liar, no you can’t. Stop lying.

“Minimum wage should be unlivable, so the people making it are motivated to do something better! Otherwise, they’ll just be lazy!”


2. What kind of terrifying sociopathic insanity is this argument? The Hunger Games wasn’t intended to be a guideline for how to run a country, for fuck’s sake. How deep into the well of Randian psychosis does one have to delve before this sounds like a reasonable idea? How much of a remorseless, empathy-lacking lunatic do you have to be to think every sphere of American public life should be fucking Thunderdome?

3. So your argument is that American fast food workers are currently significantly less lazy, by virtue of being treated like dogshit, than fast food workers in other countries who make a living wage? LOL jk I know you totally talk shit about fast food workers as a means of compensating for your own insecurities—all of you fucknuts do. Regardless, I’m pretty sure Denmark’s system works just fine considering their economy hasn’t collapsed in on itself like a dying star. There’s also the fact that fast food restaurants are still plenty profitable there (and everywhere else). And before you start with this (because you always do), there is no valid argument that Denmark is so drastically different from the US that the same system wouldn’t work here. Stop talking.

4. Most importantly, a lot of minimum wage jobs are vital to the health of a functioning society. Simply put, we need people doing them. Not everyone can be managers, and the answer to those who can’t isn’t “LET THEM STARVE, FUCK THE MEEK.” Why would you want everyone competing for management jobs? Why wouldn’t we want people performing vital jobs like farm workers, housekeepers, nursing assistants, fishing industry workers, construction workers, and yes, fast food workers (among others) to be able to lead secure, happy lives, so they’ll keep doing those jobs we so desperately need done? Are you going to do the work for them? No? Then fuck you, we should pay them what they’re worth to society—which sure as hell isn’t $7.50/hour.

Of all the arguments we’re tackling here, this one is the most fundamentally insane on a staggering array of different levels.

“But I barely make more than $15/hour! Why should they make something close to what I make?”

This is by far the most depressing of the arguments on this list, because it’s the most cataclysmically self-defeating from the perspective of the working class as a whole. To dispel it, we’re going to need to go back to the crab bucket allegory I’ve talked about before.

The crab bucket mentality gets its name from what happens when a bunch of caught crabs all wind up in a bucket together. If the crabs were to work together, they could all easily escape. When one crab tries to make its exit from captivity, though, what actually happens is that the others pull it right back down. When you see people arguing against a minimum wage increase on the grounds that fast food workers don’t deserve to make what other likewise underpaid workers make, that is as soul-crushingly perfect an illustration of the crab bucket mentality as you’ll ever see.

It’s also absurd on its face, because it assumes the economy won’t ultimately adjust to a new wage baseline. In fact, both theory and actual study have shown pretty conclusively that when the minimum wage is increased, everyone making within 150% of the new minimum ultimately sees a corresponding increase. The idea that wages wouldn’t naturally adjust and everyone at that end of the wage scale wouldn’t wind up making more is laughable.

Furthermore, if you’ve been fortunate enough to dodge the myriad dipshit memes going around about EMT’s making less than what fast food workers are asking for with Fight For $15, well, I’m sorry for inflicting them on you now. On the upside, though, if you haven’t seen them before, you also haven’t seen NY EMT Jens Rushing’s glorious shut-down of that crap. Do yourself a favor and click that link if you haven’t read it before; I promise it’s well worth your time.

Getting back to the subject at hand, though, let’s also pay attention to its sister argument: “I make $12/hour and I don’t think I should be making the same as fast food employees.” Yes, there are actually people so hell-bent on denigrating fast food workers they are willing to give up an increase in their own hourly wage purely to preserve a false sense of superiority. Think about how demented that is—people will knowingly sacrifice their own livelihood just so they don’t have to feel equal to those they see as beneath them. I wouldn’t believe these people were real if they didn’t love to hang out in my comments section.

Fuckin’ crab bucket, man.

“It’s all the fault of lazy Millennials!”

I didn’t believe this was a real argument people actually made until I started writing about this subject, but holy shit, there are actually individuals both dumb and self-involved enough to think this isn’t one of the stupidest things anyone could possibly say. I’m going to say this once, and then we’re done with responding to “MURICA MURICA MURICA LAZY MILLENNIUHLS PARTICIPAYSHUN TROPHIES TRUUUUUUUUUUUMP,” because I can’t fucking believe we’re still having this painfully idiotic discussion.

Millennials were handed a broken economy, a hopelessly corrupt student loans system, and the most staggering lack of class mobility in American history, and we turned around to those that handed it to us and went, “uh, this is broken, this is not what you spent our entire lives promising us. We demand something better.” The response we got was “LAZY INGRATES! When I was a youth, I paid for college with a summer job! Why can’t you just do that?!”

We’re smart enough to know the game is rigged, and when we refuse to participate in a broken system and fight for something better, we’re somehow the bad guys, the lazy ones. Part of this is the same crab bucket problem as the previous entry, but more of it is simple generational factionalism masquerading as the self-considered gospel truth of wise elders. Baby Boomers—the most self-centered generation in the history of human civilization—broke the country and somehow had the gall to be shocked when Millennials weren’t grateful for it.

So take that weak-ass anti-Millennial garbage out of here, because every time you bring it, we’re going Mutombo and parking that shit in the fourth row.

“If you raise the minimum wage, you’ll all just get replaced by robots, HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?!” *smug smirk*

Most of the other arguments on this list make me sad or frustrated, but this is the one that gets me actively angry. Part of why that is—the obvious part—is that it’s always delivered with such smug condescension, like no one could possibly have a response to it. “Lo!” these people think. “I have harnessed my superior brainpower and lain down an ace which cannot be countered! BEHOLD MY ERUDITIONAL MAJESTY!”

But most of why this argument is infuriating is actually less due to the insufferableness of its proponents and more because it’s so deeply fucking stupid. In coming up with what they think is the ultimate trump card, opponents of a minimum wage have made the dumbest possible argument against it.


Long version: the thing about fast food robots is that the technology isn’t currently good enough to effectively replace workers. Yeah, I know Sheetz and Wawa use some touchscreens, but there’s a reason they still need actual live bodies to staff those places. Sure, maybe automated ordering interfaces can handle limited queues in ideal conditions, but dealing with a busy restaurant at rush time is still far beyond their capabilities. This is evidenced pretty clearly by the fact that a McDonald’s in San Francisco currently pilot-testing automated ordering systems actually had to hire more workers as a result of their touchscreens.

You know how we know a wage increase won’t suddenly make fast food companies replace all their employees with robots? Because if that were the case, it would’ve happened already. Automation, insofar as it’ll ever be fully possible when it comes to food service (and the ceiling for involvement here isn’t nearly as high as Republicans desperately want to think**), will happen when the technology and the cost makes it viable, and there’s not a damn thing we can actually do to stop it. It’s not going to magically happen purely because workers started demanding to be treated like actual human beings. Cost-viability on something like that—at least to the degree that robots or touchscreens could actually replace workers, rather than simply making their job easier—is still quite a ways off, regardless of if those workers are paid $8 or $15. Machines and their upkeep are not cheap.

In short, knock it off with this bullshit. Or you could keep spouting this talking point despite all the evidence stacked up against you. Let me know when you come up with a comeback for the fact that supermarket checkout clerks still exist.

* Worth reminding everyone: in addition to its owner murdering the fuck out of endangered species, Jimmy John’s has been sued for systematic wage theft and has the most absurd, regressive, horrific non-compete agreements I’ve ever seen. Jimmy John Liautaud has a strong case for Most Evil Businessman in America.

** By the way, how fucking ghoulish is it to gleefully root for the demise of peoples’ livelihoods purely so you can win a political argument? How goddamned monstrous is that?

Image via kryzhov/Shutterstock.

Contact the author at [email protected].

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