the national interest

Republicans Are Furious Fast-Food Workers Are Getting a Raise

Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Republican Party, it tells us, has become a workers’ party. The complicating detail is finding ways to lift incomes for low-wage workers that meet the party’s approval. Giving low-income workers money is bad because that creates a disincentive to work. Regulating a higher minimum wage is also no good because that kills jobs. Government-subsidized health insurance or child care is also problematic, and encouraging the formation of unions to give them more bargaining power is totally unacceptable.

That leaves just one Republican-friendly way to increase living standards for low-wage workers: a tight labor market that forces employers to bid up wages. And now, it turns out Republicans don’t like that method, either.

This week, Chipotle announced it would raise its prices by 4 percent to cover the cost of paying higher wages. The National Republican Congressional Committee pounced with a press release attacking the Democrats for having engineered this catastrophe. “Democrats’ socialist stimulus bill caused a labor shortage,” complained a GOP spokesman, “and now burrito lovers everywhere are footing the bill.”

Of course, you wouldn’t expect Republicans to praise the economic results under a Democratic president. What’s interesting is that this is a story they chose to highlight. It’s hardly impossible to find bad or discouraging signs in the economy. There are indicators in the economy that at least hint that the Democratic recovery strategy might not work out. But forcing employers to pay higher wages for fast-food workers is exactly what Biden’s economic program is trying to do.

The Federalist, which has built its reader base by amplifying Donald Trump’s lies in ways more traditional conservative outlets are too embarrassed to follow, has published a column expanding on the official party line. The author, Kylee Zempel, has written several hundred words expressing outrage that the fast-casual joint has “jacked up the price of [her] Chipotle order.”

Zempel is specifically angry that Democrats have engineered a tight labor market forcing Chipotle to raise wages: “Restaurants have had to bribe current and prospective workers with fatter paychecks to lure them off their backsides and back to work,” she complains. “That’s what happens when the federal government steps in with a sweet unemployment deal, incentivizing workers do a little less labor and a little more lounging.”

Well … yes, that’s not wrong. If unemployment is not penalized with absolute deprivation, workers have more leverage to demand higher pay.

Zempel attempts to convey this chain of decisions in a tone of horror: “In an effort to bring on an additional 20,000 workers, Chipotle announced in May that it would raise its average hourly wage to $15 by the end of this month — the same dollar figure Democrats have pushed as a federal minimum wage.”

The putative objection to increasing the minimum wage is that employers would eliminate jobs because they don’t produce enough value to make that wage profitable. But now that employers like Chipotle are finding they can pay that wage, and the only cost is a rather modest increase in prices, it turns out some conservatives simply object to working-class employees making that much money.

Republicans Furious Fast-Food Workers Are Getting a Raise