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Is there a downside to Monday’s $20 mandatory minimum wage hike for fast-food workers?

March 21, 2024 | Employment Law

The mandatory minimum wage for fast-food workers in California is set to increase to $20 an hour, prompting major restaurant chains to assess their businesses to offset the higher labor costs. 


In California, the minimum wage stands at $16 per hour across all industries, resulting in a potential increase of up to 25% for cashiers, line and prep cooks, counter attendants, and baristas. This contrasts sharply with the federal minimum wage, which has remained stagnant at $7.25 per hour since 2009. 


While numerous states and cities have opted to raise the minimum wage independently, California’s decision to significantly raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers stands out for its focused approach on a specific sector and the magnitude of the increase all at once.


“This is such a dramatic increase on a state minimum wage that was already quite high,” said Harry Holzer, a Georgetown University public policy professor, “The workers who keep their jobs will be happy; they will be better off.”


The economic impact of such a rapid and significant increase in wages remains uncertain. Typically, raising the minimum wage benefits many low-wage workers, lifting some out of poverty. However, there are potential downsides, as some workers may face job losses, reduced hours, or fewer job opportunities due to employers implementing cost-saving measures such as layoffs, shorter shifts, or reduced hiring.


Independent business owners also face pressure to increase wages to retain workers. The wage hike is seen as a significant win for fast-food workers, but its economic effects remain uncertain. Some believe it could lead to greater competition for fast-food jobs, while others worry about potential job losses and reduced work hours. 


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices at limited-service restaurants across the nation have risen by nearly 30% since February 2020. This trend of increased prices is particularly concerning for lower-income households, as they allocate a larger portion of their income towards food expenses and tend to consume a higher proportion of fast food. As a result, further increases in fast-food prices are likely to disproportionately impact these households.


The experiences of other cities with similar wage increases offer insight into potential outcomes. Overall, the wage hike is seen as part of a broader effort to empower fast-food workers and improve working conditions in the industry.


If you are treated unfairly at work,  contact us online, or call (310) 432-0000. Our team has over 20 years of experience in representing only employees in cases against their employers. We are confident trial lawyers who will not hesitate to aggressively represent you in court.