Let me just fast forward to the answer of the question in the title of this post: No, I don’t think $15 an hour is unreasonable pay for flipping burgers or for doing any other unskilled labor that does not require a college degree.
I believe all jobs should pay a “livable wage.” What exactly is a livable wage, you ask? A livable wage is a salary that pays enough per hour to bring the employee up to or above the federally determined poverty line. This is not to say that all workers should earn the same wage–a neonatologist should not have the same salary as a nurse’s aid–but every one who works full-time should be paid enough money to purchase the necessities and to live with a bit of dignity.
One argument I’ve heard/read is that fast food workers like those employed at McDonalds should not be paid the $15 an hour they are seeking because if those people wanted to make a decent living then they should have attended college to get the skills to command more money in the labor market.
So lets talk about that argument for a second.
Number one, attending college doesn’t guarantee that you will have any marketable skills which demand a comfortable salary or that there will be enough jobs in the market to absorb the number of people who have your skills. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported in June of this year that a full 44 percent of recent college graduates were underemployed as of 2012, meaning that those graduates were working in jobs that did not require their degrees.
Number two, even if everyone went to college that doesn’t eliminate the need for low-skilled work to be done. Just like a company needs a CEO a company will also need a janitor to scrub the toilets and take out the garbage. And if everyone has a college then we will just have janitors will college degrees. FYI: In 2010 there were 5,000 janitors in the US with PhD’s.
Number three, unskilled and low-skilled workers are often working harder than professionals. Nursing assistants who work with the elderly or infirm often find themselves wiping feces off of patients, assisting with bathing and other activities of daily living such as eating and the brushing of teeth, while the nurse or other trained professionals working in the medical setting are only responsible for handing out medicines and making sure that the nursing assistants completed their work. Of course, nurses and doctors attend school for years and often far more informed about the why of something being done than just how it should be done, but this fact doesn’t make what the low-skilled worker does any less important or less necessary to the care of the patient.
Number four, because the only way to earn wages high enough to make a decent living are in management this encourages people to go into management who are obviously ill-suited to managing other people but they choose to do so anyway for the financial benefits. Ideally a person should only go into management because they enjoy and want to pursue the new tasks that will be required of that role; instead, you get the money-hungry and the ambitious as higher-ups rather than workers who truly enjoy providing excellent customer service to the consumer.
And, finally, but probably most importantly, just because a low-skilled work is able to earn a higher paying wage does not take anything away from the professionals. We still need the CEO of a company. And we need the janitors, service workers, and fast food workers, too. Lets give the little guy his due by paying him a livable wage.