In last Monday's Post and Courier, President Barack Obama made an impassioned case for increasing the mandatory minimum wage in America from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. Remarkably, though, his own past observations about how the economy works make clear that his policy would be a sure-fire job killer.
Surely, it is hard to disagree with the president when he says workers should be rewarded with honest wages and "that certainly means that no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty."
But this isn't an issue of sentiment; it's an issue of economics. And even President Obama understands that the economics are devastating.
Maybe you'll recall when President Obama blamed high unemployment on ATM machines.
"There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers," he said. "You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don't go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you're using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate."
The president was right. Many employers are using technology to substitute self-service and automation for expensive labor. Employers not only save money on the hourly wages.
The ATM machine, once installed, requires no more training.
It never calls in sick. It doesn't collect overtime when it works all day.
And it doesn't make accounting errors.
The list of places where automation and self service have replaced humans is almost endless.
Someone used to pump your gas. A toll taker collected your money on the highway. At the fast-food restaurant, someone filled your glass with your beverage of choice.
Now, of course, we do all these things for ourselves.
What President Obama has to understand is that his proposed increase in the minimum wage would put this trend into over-drive, nowhere more so than in the food service industry.
Currently, employees in the restaurant business who collect tips make a minimum wage below the $7.25 per hour rate of other employees.
That differential would go away under the president's plan - and so would millions of jobs.
Waiters and waitresses would be replaced in droves with cheap tablet computers.
Instead of a restaurant employing a dozen servers on a busy night, people would place their orders on a gadget, and then one or two runners would deliver the food to the tables.
Millions of Americans got their first job opportunity as a tipped food employee.
Many went on to gain the skills to get high quality food service jobs in the well-known restaurants, the kind we have so many of here in Charleston.
Countless of our neighbors used those kinds of jobs to work their way through college and into the middle class. And now the president proposes to wipe out that entire sector of the economy in one fell swoop, when even he knows full well that the trend he complained about would be amplified, rather than reversed, by his proposal.
In this the fifth year of Barack Obama's presidency, we must sympathize with middle-aged people with families forced to work long hours in minimum wage jobs because the administration's policies have failed miserably in creating middle-class jobs.
But it is wrong to support a policy that we all know that will destroy even those jobs that are currently available.
Let's focus on creating maximum wage jobs that will support a middle-class lifestyle, and leave alone the minimum wage jobs our kids need to get their start in a healthier economy.
Fred Wszolek, a Charleston resident, is a spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute.
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