Food Fight Over Fast-Food Workers’ Minimum Wages Poses Economic Problems

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Dozens of picketing fast-food workers hoped their demonstration would spur restaurant to double hourly wages, but an economics professor said the action isn't likely to change the pay.

"Most employers are not going to respond to a demonstration or two", says Dr. John Gnuschke , director of the Sparks Bureau of Business & Economic Research Center for Manpower Studies at the University of Memphis.

"If you pay $15 for your employers that means whatever you're selling or whatever your business is, your prices are  going to go have to go up," says Memphian Marcus Dotson.

Gnuschke says in order to keep the price of their products low, they also have to pay their employees minimum wage.

It would take more than that for big business to take big cuts from their bottom line.

And $7.25 to $15 dollars is a big jump, one customers most likely would have to swallow.

But some say minimum wage is not enough.

"It's just impossible to make ends meet as a family working at fast food restaurant," said Tamika Johnson.

Gnuschke says the problem is worse here because about one out four people in Memphis live below the poverty line - way more than the national and state average.

"There are a lot of people crowded into the bottom of the labor market in Memphis as they are across the country and those people crowded into that labor market have caused the wages to be low," Gnuschke says.

With so many people in poverty who need jobs, any job, some people will always be willing to work for a low wage.

"Ideally what you find is that the minimum wage is just the entry wage. beyond that if you work there for any length of time, you get incremental pay increases," Gnuschke says.

But Tamika Johnson, who worked in the restaurant business for years, says pay raises, in her experience, rarely happen.

"It will take you years to go from a cashier at $7.25 to a crew leader, so it's not fair."

Gnuschke says one guaranteed way workers will get raises, is when the federal minimum wage increases.

That's usually in much smaller increments, and over a period of years.