Sleepless in Seattle--70 Attempts at Minimum-Wage Work

Date: March 31, 2016 Last Edit: April 07, 2016

Related Content: News Labor Minimum Wage Washington

Mitch Hall took a spring semester off from college to hang out in Seattle. All this young man needed was a minimum-wage job to get by, and that’s when he received an education of a different kind.

As NFIB constantly reminds state lawmakers and city council members who constantly want to tinker with Washington’s minimum-wage rate, increasing it has only one effect: It kills entry level jobs for teens and young adults. It doesn’t lift anyone out of poverty, nor does it sustain families. 
In his personal account, Mitch Hall pins the blame on Seattle’s nationally high minimum-wage rate for his inability to find work after 70 tries. You can read the full article in the Federalist by clicking here. The following are some highlights:
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. 
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?
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.
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.
Given this, it makes sense that Seattle employers forced to pay the new minimum wage even to tipped employees only feel comfortable hiring highly qualified prospects who can prove on paper they’ll be a safe long-term investment. These restaurateurs and store managers don’t want to risk hiring a relatively inexperienced young adult they’ll have to spend precious time and money training, and who may easily grow complacent in the job once he realizes he’ll get paid $13 an hour no matter the extent of his stay or the quality of his job performance.
Higher minimum wages favor people who have already made a career out of these jobs—or, in other words, the very people minimum wage jobs are not intended for.
The overall share of hourly paid workers earning minimum wage or less has also significantly decreased over the past few decades: in 1979, they represented 7.9 percent of all wage and salary workers, whereas today they represent only 2.6 percent of that demographic. With such a small percentage of the working population earning base pay or below, it’s unlikely that increasing the federal minimum wage by 50 percent or 100 percent would do much at all to improve the overall poverty rate.

Related Content: News | Labor | Minimum Wage | Washington

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I’m a young, educated, white male who comes from an upper-middle-class background. In other words, I’m exactly the type of person that society supposedly favors over all the rest. If it’s this difficult for me to land an entry-level, minimum-wage position, then what must it be like for more disadvantaged individuals, the very people compassionate liberals likely have in mind when they advocate for a spike in the minimum wage? Surely the poor inner-city teenager lacking education and job experience, or the struggling single mother who needs to work much more than just part-time to support her children, will lose out to other applicants even faster than I did.

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