Minimum wage, maximum unemployment

Following the previously-blogged move by SeaTac to up its minimum wage to $15/hour, this campaign seems to be going national in the USA, heavily backed by unions such as SEIU:

Organisers hope workers in as many as 100 cities will participate in what is the latest in a series of such actions.
Unions want a $15-an-hour (£9.19) federal minimum wage. The current one, set in 2009, is $7.25 per hour.
Oh dear. Where to start? Well, $15/hour in NYC is very different from $15/hour in rural Kansas in terms of buying power. In the latter, you'll be lumping a huge range of jobs together with the same wage. I don't know what socioeconomic effect this is going to have, but it's not going to be pretty.

There's also the small matter of unemployment. Some businesses won't be economic to operate with a doubled wage bill. They'll either have to get more productivity out of their existing workers, or do without them all together. This is where the much-famed robot burger flipper comes in - for a fast food establishment you shrink your workforce to a small number of managers and technicians who deliver $15+/hour of organisational value, and then steadily replace the servers and burger flippers with machines. This is more likely for larger businesses since they can more easily amortise the costs of integrating the machine with their menu and kitchen layouts. Once the principle of robotic food preparation (and self-cleaning bathrooms) is established, there will be a lively market in the associated hardware and software. Meanwhile the number of jobs for relatively unskilled workers plummets, with the most likely unreplaceable jobs involving customer interactions like waitressing and more skilled cooking - and if you don't have great people skills or a trade skill, you're screwed because there's a much larger pool of people competing with you.

Given all the likely and very visible negative effects of a doubled minimum wage, I'm desperately curious why the major unions are pursuing it. They're not stupid, after all. It would seem that they're making a massive millstone for their own necks, and those of the politicians they own, when the wage goes up and unemployment shoots up to match. Are they that confident in the media carrying water for them and blaming the unemployment effects on "the rich", and panning the opposition when they proposed lowering the minimum wage back to something like $8/hour?

"What we need is a social movement in this country that says enough is enough," said David Rolf, the president of the local Service Employees International Union.
Yes, enough with employment for many - let's restrict it to the elite. Doesn't seem like a very progressive message to me, but what do I know?

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