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“Restaurant Recession” Hits NYC Following $15 Minimum Wage

This will be a rough year for full-service NYC restaurants as they try to navigate a future with significant economic headwinds and significantly higher labor costs from the city’s $15 an hour minimum wage.

An article in the New York Eater (“Restaurateurs Are Scrambling to Cut Service and Raise Prices After Minimum Wage Hike“) highlights some of the suffering New York City’s full-service restaurants are experiencing following the December 31, 2018 hike in the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is 15.4% higher than the $13 minimum wage a year earlier and 36.4% higher than the $11 an hour two years ago. For example, Rosa Mexicana operates four restaurants in Manhattan and estimates the $15 mandated wage will increase their labor costs by $600,000 this year. Here’s a slice:

Now, across the city, restaurant owners and operators are reworking their budgets and operations to come up with those extra funds. Some restaurants, like Rosa Mexicano, are changing scheduling. Other restaurateurs are cutting hours and staffers, raising menu prices, and otherwise nixing costs wherever they can.

And though the new regulations are intended to benefit employees, some restaurateurs and staffers say that take home pay ends up being less due to fewer hours — or that employees face more work because there are fewer staffers per shift. “The bottom line is, we have to reduce the number of hours we spend,” says Chris Westcott, Rosa Mexicano’s president and CEO. “And unfortunately that means that, in many cases, employees are earning less even though they’re making more.”

In a survey conducted by New York City Hospitality Alliance late last year, about 75% of the more than 300 respondents operating full-service restaurants reported they’ll reduce employee hours this year because of the new wage increases, while 47% said they’ll eliminate jobs in 2019.

Note also that the survey also reported that “76.50% of respondents report reducing employee hours and 36.30% eliminated jobs in 2018 in response to mandated wage increases.” Those staff reductions are showing up in the NYC full-service restaurant employee series from the BLS, see chart above. December 2018 restaurant jobs were down by almost 3,000 (and by 1.64%) from the previous December, and the 2.5% annual decline in March 2018 was the worst annual decline since the sharp collapse in restaurant jobs following 9/11 in 2001.

As the chart shows, it usually takes an economic recession to cause year-over-year job losses at NYC’s full-service restaurants, so it’s likely that this is a “restaurant recession” tied to the annual series of minimum wage hikes that brought the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour at the end of last year. And the NYC restaurant recession is happening even as the national economy hums along in the 117th month of the second-longest economic expansion in history and just short of the 120-month record expansion from March 1991 to March 2001.

Here’s more of the article:

“There’s a lot of concern and anxiety happening within the city’s restaurant industry,” says Andrew Rigie, executive director of the restaurant advocacy group. Most restaurant owners want to pay employees more, he says, but are challenged by “the financial realities of running a restaurant in New York City.” Merelyn Bucio, a server at a restaurant in Soho that she declined to name, says her hours were cut and her workload increased when wage rates rose. Server assistants and bussers now work fewer shifts, so she and other servers take on side work like polishing silverware and glasses. “We have large sections, and there are large groups, so it’s more difficult,” she says. “You need your server assistant in order to give guests a better experience.”

At Lalito, a small restaurant in Chinatown, they used to roster two servers on the floor, but post wage increases, there’s only one, who is armed with a handheld POS (point of sale) system, according to co-owner Mateusz Lilpop. Having fewer people working was the only way for him to reduce costs, he says. Since the hike, labor costs at Lalito have risen about 10 percent — from 30 to 35 percent to 40 to 45 percent of sales, he says.

These changes get passed onto the diner, some restaurateurs argue. Service can suffer due to fewer people on the floor, or more and more restaurateurs will explore the fast-casual format over full-service ones. Some restaurants are also raising prices for customers. According to the NYC Hospitality Alliance’s survey, close to 90 percent of respondents expect to raise menu prices this year. Lalito’s menu prices have increased by 10 to 15 percent. Lilpop says, and it’s not just the cost of paying his staff driving prices up — it’s a ripple effect from New York-based food purveyors’ own labor cost increases.

“If you have a farmer that has employees that are picking fruit, he has to increase his labor costs, which means he has to increase his fruit prices,” Lilpop says. “I have to buy that fruit from him at a higher rate, and it goes down the chain.”

A few economic lessons here.

  1. A reduction in restaurant staffing that results in a decline in customer service (e.g., longer wait times, less attentive wait staff, etc.) is equivalent to a price increase for customers.
  2. The increases in the city minimum wage to $15 an hour, in addition to directly increasing labor costs for restaurants, also affects the labor costs of companies that supply food, liquor, restaurant supplies, menus, etc. and causes a ripple effect of indirect higher operational costs throughout the entire restaurant supply chain as described above.
  3. Even for workers who keep their jobs, a higher minimum wage per hour doesn’t necessarily translate into higher weekly earnings, if the reduction in hours is greater than the increase in hourly wages. For example, 40 hours per week at $13 an hour generates higher weekly pre-tax earnings ($520) than 33 hours per week at the higher $15 an hour ($495).

Prediction: This will be a rough year for full-service NYC restaurants as they try to navigate a future with significant economic headwinds and significantly higher labor costs from the city’s $15 an hour minimum wage.

This article was reprinted from the American Enterprise Institute.

COLUMN BY

Mark J. Perry

Mark J. Perry

Mark J. Perry is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.

EDITORS NOTE: This FEE column with images is republished with permission. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

The New York Times Explains Why the Minimum Wage Should Be $0.00

The minimum wage is the Jason Vorhees of economics. It just won’t die.

No matter how many jobs the minimum wage destroys, no matter how many times you debunk it, it always comes back to wreak more havoc.

We’ve covered the issues at length at FEE, and quite effectively, if I do say so myself. But I have to admit that one of the greatest takedowns of the minimum wage you’ll ever find comes from an unlikely place: The New York Times.

There are many reasons people and politicians find the minimum wage attractive, of course. But the Times, in an editorial entitled “The Right Minimum Wage: 0.00,” skillfully rebuts each of these reasons in turn.

Noting that the federal minimum wage has been frozen for some six years, the Times admits that it’s no wonder that organized labor is pressuring politicians to increase the federal minimum wage to raise the standard of living for poorer working Americans.

“No wonder. But still a mistake,” the Times explains. “There’s a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed.”

But why has the idea “passed”? Why would raising the minimum wage not help the working poor?

“Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market,” the editors explain.

But wouldn’t the minimum wage increase the purchasing power of low-income Americans? Wouldn’t a meaningful increase allow a single breadwinner to support a family of three and actually be above the official U.S. poverty line?

Ideally, yes. But there are unseen problems, as the editors point out:

There are catches…[A higher minimum wage] would increase employers’ incentives to evade the law, expanding the underground economy. More important, it would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.

But if that’s true, why would progressives support such a law? What’s their rationale for supporting a minimum wage if it does more harm than good? Is it sheer political opportunism?

Not necessarily. The Times explains:

A higher minimum would undoubtedly raise the living standard of the majority of low-wage workers who could keep their jobs. That gain, it is argued, would justify the sacrifice of the minority who became unemployable.

There’s just one problem with this logic, the editors say:

The argument isn’t convincing. Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs. The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable – and fundamentally flawed. It’s time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.

It’s a compelling, reasoned, and erudite argument. But it’s not exactly what one expects to see in The New York Times these days. (A naughty person might say the same about reason and erudition in general in the paper.)

So what gives? Alas, the editorial is a relic. It was written way, way back in 1987. A lot has changed since then.

We’ve had a couple wars. The internet was introduced to the masses. There was 9-11. We elected the nation’s first black president. The Cubs and Red Sox won the World Series. There was even a female reboot of Ghostbusters.

At least one thing, however, did not change. That would be the laws of economics. They hold as fast and true in 2018 as they did in 1987.

The Times’ editorial board might have changed. The perception of the minimum wage certainly changed. Relatively recent polls show seven out of ten Americans support raising the federal minimum wage. Several cities—Seattle, New York, and Minneapolis, among them—have passed laws that raised (or will soon raise) the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

So it’s safe to say the minimum wage laws have become more popular, no doubt in part from campaigns promoting them and an education system sympathetic to them. Still, economic laws do not change based on how popular humans find them. They remain true and constant whether they are popular or not.

In fact, some have observed that economic laws are inherently unpopular.

“In economics, the majority is always wrong,” John Kenneth Galbraith once allegedly quipped.

Now, there have been a lot of complaints directed at corporate media in recent years, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due. So let’s give the Times a hand.

The paper was right in 1987. And if politicians are genuinely interested in helping the poor, they’ll stick a stake in the heart of the minimum wage once and for all.

Jon Miltimore

Jon Miltimore

Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. Serving previously as Director of Digital Media at Intellectual Takeout, Jon was responsible for daily editorial content, web strategy, and social media operations. Before that, he was the Senior Editor of The History Channel Magazine, Managing Editor at Scout.com, and general assignment reporter for the Panama City News Herald. Jon also served as an intern in the speechwriting department under George W. Bush.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is provided by FEE and is republished with permission.