” Union activists want to raise the minimum wage in the fast-food industry to $15 an hour. However, fast-food restaurants operate on very small profit margins; they could only afford such wages by raising prices—significantly. Higher prices would, in turn, drive customers away, forcing even larger price increases to cover costs. Ultimately, the average fast-food restaurant would have to raise prices by nearly two-fifths. This would cause sales to drop by more than one-third, and profits to fall by more than three-quarters. Absent the widespread adoption of labor-saving technology, the union-led “Fight for 15” would make fast food much more expensive for Americans.
Fight for 15
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has launched an expensive PR campaign calling for wages of at least $15 an hour in the fast-food industry. This Fight for 15 is part of a larger SEIU pressure campaign to unionize fast-food restaurants. Hundreds of union activists have staged “walkouts” and protests across the country demanding the higher pay rate. These protests have attracted considerable media attention. However, if the SEIU achieved its stated goal, it would hurt the budgets of millions of moderate-income Americans.
No, Fast-Food Joints Cannot Absorb Cost Increases
Artificially inflating wages would substantially increase fast-food restaurants’ total costs—labor makes up a considerable portion of their budget. Chart 1 shows the financial statements of the average fast-food restaurant in 2013. Labor costs (26 percent) and food and material costs (31 percent) make up the majority of the typical restaurant budget.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average cook in a fast-food restaurant earned $9.04 an hour in 2013. The SEIU’s push for $15 an hour would consequently raise fast-food wages by at least 66 percent. Paying $15 an hour would raise fast-food restaurants’ total costs by approximately 15 percent. “
As usual the costs of this proposed feel good legislation would be borne on the backs of those least able to afford it , the lower and middle income segments of society and not the well-to-do do-gooders pushing the measure .
” The higher labor costs would initially force fast-food restaurants to raise their prices by 15 percent, which would drive down sales by 14 percent. This would force restaurants to raise prices again, pushing sales down further. In equilibrium the average fast-food restaurant would have to raise prices 38 percent. Prices would rise roughly twice as much as the initial increase in labor costs. Total sales and hours worked would both fall by 36 percent. Fast-food restaurant owners would also have to accept a 77 percent reduction in profits in order to stay in business—leaving them with an average profit of just $6,100 a year per store. Otherwise they would have to raise prices to an extent that would drive away their customer base.
These changes would hurt consumers. Americans would face higher fast-food prices, putting a dent into the budgets of everyone who frequently eats fast food—primarily moderate-income consumers, not the wealthy, who do not regularly eat fast food.”