Mitch Hall writes:
My opposition to minimum wage increases comes as a direct result of my own experience searching for jobs as a new resident of Seattle, Washington, a city that currently has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation. In June 2014, the Seattle City Council, composed of just nine members, unanimously voted to increase the city’s base pay to a whopping $15 an hour, to be gradually implemented over the course of several years.
I’ve spent the majority of the last two months stalking online job sites and entire days traversing the various neighborhoods of Seattle.
On January 1, 2016, the newly mandated minimum wage rose to $13 for larger companies (those that have more than 500 employees in the United States), and $10.50 for smaller employers (those with fewer than 500 employees in the United States). On top of this, Washington state law now requires businesses to adhere to this minimum even for tipped workers, a rule that only six other states have on the books.
In December, I found myself needing a break from college, for a variety of reasons. So at the close of last semester, I decided (rather impulsively, as young people are wont to do) to take my spring semester off from the College of William and Mary and move out west to try my luck in Seattle, a place I had only visited once before.
My parents, although grateful to have one less semester of ridiculously high out-of-state tuition to pay for, let me know that I’d need to fund the venture myself. I had secured an internship in the Seattle area, but it was unpaid, so I knew I’d have to find additional part-time work very quickly.
Having a combined two years of serving experience and close to five years of total experience in the customer and food services industries (which is literally as much as you can ask for from a 20-year-old college student), I assumed I’d be able to find a restaurant gig in no time. So, after reassuring my parents all would be well in the financial department, I boarded a plane in Philly a few weeks later and made the move.
Yet seven weeks and more than 70 job applications later, I still have yet to land a part-time, minimum wage job. I’ve spent the majority of the last two months stalking online job sites and entire days traversing the various neighborhoods of Seattle, filling out applications and inquiring about job opportunities at any restaurant, coffee shop, retail store, or other service-oriented establishment I can find.
Having squandered all of the money I had saved to get myself through what I thought would be a brief job-hunting period, I now find myself faced with the reality that if I don’t find work very, very soon, I’ll have to cut my break short and move back to the East Coast.
Higher Wages Mean Higher Stakes
At first, I was utterly dumbfounded by my lack of success, and figured only bad luck was to blame. After all, I had been hired at every single one of my past serving jobs within only a day or two of searching and applying. I’d have to find something in Seattle eventually, I thought; I’m young, competent, and college-educated, and serving is by no means a highly skilled occupation that requires degrees or extensive training. I know how to make a good impression with prospective employers, and I already have years of experience in the food services industry. What more could these people want?
Employers, especially in the restaurant and food services industries, are far less willing to take chances on who they hire with so much money on the line.
But soon enough it became clear, through talking with potential employers and local college students also trying to find work, that my failure to land a job was likely due, at least in large part, to Seattle’s absurdly high minimum wage.
Employers, especially in the restaurant and food services industries, are far less willing to take chances on who they hire with so much money on the line. I was shocked to learn that some restaurants—comparable in quality to the ones that hired me with little or no experience on the East Coast—here required a minimum of three to five years of restaurant experience, even for support staff positions like hosts and bussers. I had multiple managers glance at my resume, see that my past jobs were seasonal or temporary, and tell me upfront that unless I could commit to at least a year of labor, they simply wouldn’t hire me, despite my qualifications.
Contrast this with my past experience working in Pennsylvania and Virginia, states that have a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for non-tipped workers and a base pay of $2.13 per hour for positions that do receive tips. To the uninformed observer, this situation looks a lot worse than the progressive system Washington has put in place, and admittedly, after taxes most of my paychecks came out to little more than $0.
But in reality this wasn’t an issue, because the tips easily made up for the hourly wage I was missing. Working 30 hours a week, I was able to bring home around $500 per week, which translates to about $17 per hour and $26,000 a year....
Restaurateurs in states with the $2.13 per hour minimum wage requirement have much more opportunity for variety in their hiring practices, for the cost to train someone is little, and the tip-based salary incentivizes individual employees to improve on their own while allowing the business to keep most of its profits. They can usually hire year-round, and can afford to choose from a much more diverse applicant pool. This is likely why I was able to secure my first restaurant job, when I was 18 years old and had no prior serving experience, as a summer employee in a busy Mexican restaurant.
Read the entire commentary here.