I was in the car after church trying to decide if I should go home and fix a nice breakfast or stop at a fancy breakfast restaurant — one of those that include clever names and long menus listing stuff you will never eat for breakfast.
On several recent stops, I had arrived only to be met with long waiting lines. I was willing to stick it out because the wait times are usually shorter than announced.
But, I was confounded this time when I visited the restaurant with the wait time to be seated — even though there were five or six empty tables. To make matters worse, it took a while to get my food, and some of it was not completely cooked. I don't think there weren’t enough cooks in the back.
What gives here?
This is what I found out. The lines are long not just because the food is so good — and that’s debatable in some instances; it’s also because the minimum wage workers decide they can make poverty wages anywhere and move on. Oh, and I don’t think the kitchen worker’s salaries are much better than those of the other staff.
Minimum wage in Louisiana is $7.25, which is the federal minimum wage, and ranks us right around the bottom of the pay scale. You go, Louisiana.
Also, the $7.25 means Louisiana full-time minimum wage workers will work around 2,080 hours annually to earn $15,080, placing them right below the poverty level. You go, Louisiana.
And for these workers who are single parents, it means they are even further below the poverty level. Yay, Louisiana.
Waiters staff might get tips as part of their earnings, though those who bus tables might not get any of that. Tips are not a certain income, and there are many workers in the food industry and in other jobs who scrape by on minimum wage with no hope of tips.
I know there are business models that that favor paying minimum wage because those workers are supposedly interchangeable, and it helps profit margins. As a customer, though, I don’t want to wait an extra 15 minutes because someone refuses to pay workers a living wage. Look, I’d be willing to pay a little more if I knew the workers are receiving a decent wage. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be about here?
Let’s do a little more figuring on this $7.25 minimum wage. If a person is a single parent with two children with a minimum wage job, they would have to work at least 50 hours a week to grab a life just at the poverty level.
But, even with minimum wage, there are probably little if any health benefits. Because many Louisiana workers aren't paid much, some of them have to seek welfare assistance in the form of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, for their children. At least that can help some of those low-income workers provide a little more food for their children.
SNAP could be a goner if President Donald Trump gets his way. He wants to send poor people, probably like some of those missing restaurant workers, a box of government-prepared,non-perishable food every month instead of SNAP food stamps, which allows them to purchase meat, too. I don’t even want to think what will be in those boxes.
Meanwhile, another safety net for the working poor is being attacked. The Trump administration wants to eliminate funding for after-school and summer learning programs that could affect 1.7 million children and families. That may include some of those restaurant workers who depend on their programs to help their children.
There is a bill in the Louisiana Legislature to raise the minimum wage to $8 per hour in 2019 and $8.50 after that. If the minimum wage does not change in any other state over that time, Louisiana will land on the list where it is unaccustomed, near the middle of the pack.
So, you have the working poor, who have a problem paying for childcare, scraping by to find a bad place to live, their children being hurt by a weird new federal food program and the threat that two of their life lines — after-school learning and feeding programs — will be eliminated. These are programs, especially the education programs, that could help lift their children out of poverty.
What’s the point of even looking for work?
You know, I hope that those high-priced breakfast places are slacking on the number of workers because they are paying them so much more than the minimum wage and providing decent benefits for their workers. Maybe they are treating their workers so well that they just can’t afford to hire more people.
I would like to think that.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.