The People Problem of Fast Food Labor

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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124 Responses

  1. Avatar Dark Matter
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    says:

    Great article. Mr. Ford, after he created his assembly line, had a turn over of 400%. Then he increased wages by a lot and it dropped to something close to zero.

    I’m dubious that something similar is possible here but it’s worth pointing out.

    Oh, and I used to do fast food. I quit after 3 months to go to college in a different city.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    I have never use worked a fast food job. Closest I got was a summer washing dishes at a local restaurant, and three months of that kind of abusive treatment was enough to make being the clean up guy at a butcher shop / slaughter house look appealing.

    I am not remotely surprised that fast food suffers such turnover.Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      Neither am I. My brother worked at a Taco Bell for a few months in high school…

      I never worked fast food, but I worked the dorm cafeteria in college. I learned a lot about how not to treat the people serving you from that. The dish room was the worst (we were required to take a shift in the dish room every week). People would do all kinds of gross stuff, mix up milk and juice and drop stuff in it, overturn little bowls of mashed potatoes onto the plates (they had to be pried off and scraped), putting out their cigarettes in the food…

      Fast food jobs and similar suck but it’s probably good for many people, teaches empathy in a very pointed way. (Or, IDK, maybe it makes some people go “okay, I’m gonna spend the rest of my life getting other people back for what was done to me” because some people suck.)Report

      • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to fillyjonk
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        says:

        “Fast food jobs and similar suck but it’s probably good for many people, teaches empathy in a very pointed way. (Or, IDK, maybe it makes some people go “okay, I’m gonna spend the rest of my life getting other people back for what was done to me” because some people suck.)”

        Speaking for myself, who worked fast food for about 5 years (with some gaps), I’d say both are true for me.

        ETA: By which I mean, they’re not necessarily as mutually exclusive as they sound.Report

    • Avatar Fish in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      The closest I ever got to working fast food was an all-day shift I had to pull doing KP in basic training as punishment for my inability to keep my enormous mouth shut (my flight was exempt from most details because we were the marching band (insert nerds.gif here)). Ironically, that day was far and away the best day I had in basic. We were expected to work–no bones about it–but as long as we worked nobody yelled at us and at the end of it the kitchen staff gave us ice cream.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    PS I am always pretty sure, from the stories I hear, the fast food is the crucible from which abusive managers are formed.Report

    • Avatar InMD in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      When I was line cook at a local pizza chain in high school the general manager had a mental breakdown in the middle of a shift. After he was gone the assistant manager ended up working crazy hours to cover for him and became a royal a-hole in the process.Report

    • Avatar jason in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      Yup. I’ve heard horror stories from students about their jobs. One talked about how his manager at Car’s Jr. was demanding dedication and asking him to work shifts when he had class. He was smart enough (and lucky enough) to say, “Nope, college is my priority.” You want dedication? Treat your employees better.Report

      • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to jason
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        says:

        We’ve had problems here with some of the casino managers. I strongly suspect one of them, seeing that a student of mine was getting close to graduation and would go off to a better job, tanked his changes of graduating (by screwing with his schedule so he had to miss class, and making him work long hours). A lot of our students are utterly dependent on whatever job they have and unfortunately survival (or: feeding their kids) comes first and….yeah, it hurts retention.

        I’ve also heard bad things about the wal-mart here. I know they are trying to rebrand as “employee friendly” and encouraging education and all, but the local manager seems to be pretty much a jerk. (And anyway, they have their own ‘company store” for education, apparently, rather than just encouraging employees to attend whatever local college or university is nearby)

        I think with some of those places, that’s a problem: If you’re “too good” of an employee, they know they won’t keep you unless they do things to kneecap you so you can’t leave.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to fillyjonk
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          says:

          If you’re “too good” of an employee, they know they won’t keep you unless they do things to kneecap you so you can’t leave.

          The solution is to grow a pair. That’s (unfortunately) really hard.

          Multiple times over the years I’ve had to stand up for myself and tell my boss that we’re going to do things my way and his alternative is to fire me. The reality is that level of management has WAY less control over you than you think, and a ton of their “authority” is emotional bullshit that is impressive but can be ignored.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to fillyjonk
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          says:

          I worked for Walmart about thirty years ago. I was told by people whose opinions I trusted that it really had been a good place to work, back when Sam Walton was alive. He was ruthless anti-union, but part of his fighting unions was treating employees such that they didn’t feel the need to unionize. That also was the era of frequent stock splits. There were stories of secretaries from the early days who were millionaires.

          Neither of these were true when I worked there. The chain was still growing, but there wasn’t the potential for growth like there had been. There have been two splits since then, the most recent in 1999. By way of contrast, there were seven between 1975 and 1990 inclusive.

          The other factor, which I only figured out slowly, was that Walmart’s early competitive advantage was by being a successful early adopter of computerized inventory management systems. This allowed it to have lower prices than anyone else, fueling that growth. This had pretty much played out by 1990, as everyone was adopting similar technology. Walmart responded by adopting a policy of containing labor costs. Store managers were rewarded for getting the most out of the least payroll. They also were ruthless with their suppliers, to the extent that some were driven to ruin.

          Put these together and you have understaffed stores selling cheap crap. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything with moving parts, even if from an otherwise reputable manufacturer.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Richard Hershberger
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            says:

            “I was told by people whose opinions I trusted that it really had been a good place to work, back when Sam Walton was alive. He was ruthless anti-union, but part of his fighting unions was treating employees such that they didn’t feel the need to unionize. That also was the era of frequent stock splits. There were stories of secretaries from the early days who were millionaires.”

            This is kind of how things go at my company. About 2/3 of our company is unionized but my division is not. To give you an example, I have talked to management on the union side and they said it’s common to hear cussing, yelling, etc from employees directed at management. If they fire someone, the employee is usually back within a couple of weeks. On my side, if an employee raises their voice on the floor, there’s a good chance we will be in the HR office sorting it out. You have to tolerate a lot less bad behavior and take steps to keep morale higher in a non-union environment, or at least that is my experience. On the union side you quickly realize you can’t win, so you just sort of quit worrying about it.Report

  4. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    In the new economy, the most “people” focused industry is health care, such as home care aides and medical assistants.
    And these jobs tend to both require a degree or credential, and not pay much.

    Which touches on our earlier discussion about student loans where I noted that the implicit bargain of a degree being rewarded with a middle class income doesn’t hold true.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Writer Delicious Tacos has one of the best essays about working a crappy job at a fast food place I’ve seen.

    I imagine that McDonald’s has “training the new guy” down to a science to the point where it’s cost effective to replace the new guy two (or three?) times every year. I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t.

    I know that when I was a kid and I went to McDonald’s, they had a regiment of people back there in the back. Working grills, fryers, registers, and everything. Now, when I go to McDonald’s, I only see a handful. Two at the drive-through windows. Two making the food. One at the register. The manager putting food in the bag and yelling your name really loudly.

    When I was a kid, all of the people in the back (excepting the manager) were teenagers. Now they’re all grown-ups.Report

    • Avatar Frank Benlin in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      > The manager putting food in the bag and yelling your name really loudly.

      Your McDonald’s takes names?

      Anyway, one advantage of the new kiosks is that you take a number and one of the employees brings you your food.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      “When I was a kid, all of the people in the back (excepting the manager) were teenagers. Now they’re all grown-ups.”

      This. And the adults there often look like they are familiar with the inside of a jail cell. And they are pretty terrible. Meanwhile, Chic-Fil-Et has mostly actual kids working there and they kill it. Seriously, that company has their training and processes dialed.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        In Singapore, most of the fast food workers are senior citizens. This often happens because a) aging population b) CPF savings are insufficient, especially for those who worked lower wage jobs and c) no children or children are not willing to or able to take care of their parents.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      That article didn’t really resonate with my experiences, at least for the most part. Perhaps that’s because I’ve never worked at McDonald’s?

      Perhaps it’s because I worked elsewhere, or at a different time (though his statement on what he earned suggests to me we were both employed when the minimum wage was around $3.35 to $4.25). But I remember having more opportunities to engage in “time theft” than the author implies. People are better able to slow down and retain at least some dignity than that author seems to imply. But again, I never worked where he worked.

      One thing that did resonate with me was the point about the women getting the cash register jobs and the men getting the backroom jobs. In my workplaces, the same dynamic held, but not as categorically as that author states it. Sometimes men got to be cashiers and women had to work in the back, but the general pattern held. The upshot is that, at least anecdotally speaking, women had better chances to become management. Or, I should say “management” with scare quotes, because “management” most often meant crew leader, shift manager, or assistant manager–none of which paid very well at the places I worked. General manager and higher, however, did pay a lot, and (again, anecdotally) men tended to dominate those positions.

      Finally, that delicious tacos site is weird. I clicked on their home page and, well, it seemed kind of disturbing.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        My gleaning of what he was saying was that he didn’t work at Mickey D’s in the 80’s but somewhere around 15 years after that. (I’m pretty sure that they didn’t add Q-ing Ovens until the late 90’s at the earliest.)

        As for DT himself, yes. He is batshit insane.

        Good writer, though.Report

    • Avatar Fish in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      That essay is brilliant. I think I’ve said this before, but I must ensure that my 18-year-old never, ever, ever reads it.Report

    • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      I worked at a Mickey D’s for about a year, and that essay is spot on.

      When I was a kid, all of the people in the back (excepting the manager) were teenagers. Now they’re all grown-ups.

      This is true in cities. If you go to a fast food chain in the country, it’s still kids. Kind of indicative of where dead end jobs have gone in urban areas. It used to be in a factory, where you could make a living. Now it’s flipping burgers or frying chicken for wages that are somewhat tolerable only because of the tight labor market.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Siegel
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    says:

    I think a bigger problem than wages in fast food is the micro-management of labor. Employees are no longer hired on regular shifts but are hired based on algorithms that put them in for 3-5 on Wednesday, 9-3 on Thursday, 11-9 on Saturday, 3-5 on Sunday, etc. The idea is to maximize people for when you need them. But it’s absolutely crushing to people who work there. You can’t live like that. Cracking down on that would be far greater than a minimum wage hike.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Siegel
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      says:

      We can’t have an ‘on demand’ economy without ‘on demand’ workers.

      Think about how pervasive this is in our world, the idea that there should be no pause between the wanting of a thing and the getting of the thing.

      And conversely, how the line between our public lives and home lives has become blurred as work and consuming increasingly intrudes onto our private time.

      Today is ostensibly a holiday, but how many people are working? If not outright working, at least “catching up on emails”, or conducting the business of shopping either online or in person?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Michael Siegel
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      says:

      I think New York has already gotten rid of the zero hours contract and requires employers to use shifts when determining how long people work.Report

  7. Avatar Road Scholar
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    says:

    I’ve never worked fast food but I do work in an industry with a comparable turnover rate. At my last job, largest carrier in the country, I spent some time mentoring new drivers. I was talking to one of the managers of the mentoring program and he told me that to keep 18,000 trucks rolling we had to hire and train 19,000 new guys every year. At the time I had been there four years and he said that made me a “senior” driver.

    Better pay would help but most wash out because they just can’t handle the lifestyle. In a lot of ways it’s just the opposite of fast food. My “manager” (dispatcher) is in Lithuania (of all places, amirite?) and the details of how/when I accomplish my job is entirely up to me. The pay is decent for blue-collar — better than median — but life on the road is just expensive, even with a fridge and microwave in the truck.

    Which is all to say I’m not sure you can blame a problem like high turnover universally on any obvious factor(s).Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    When I was out of college, I taught English for a private company in Tokyo. The companies economic model depended on a steady stream of college grads from the Anglophone world that wanted to spend a year or two in a largely Mickey Mouse job for okay but not great wages and a good time.

    This worked well enough until other things caused the company to go bust.

    My understanding is that there is a cultural disconnect on these kinds of jobs. Lots of people imagine fast food jobs are held by teenagers looking for pocket money but that is just not true. Now the jobs are held by adults trying to live on the income.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      ” Lots of people imagine fast food jobs are held by teenagers looking for pocket money but that is just not true. Now the jobs are held by adults trying to live on the income.”

      This. Or pretty much “this”–I don’t know the numbers. Whatever the numbers, adults probably make up a good proportion [ETA: even if they don’t make up a majority]. And even the teenagers are not all suburban kids or college students trying to get beer money. A good number of my coworkers in my high school fast food job had to chip in to their parents’ rent payments. I don’t know how representative my anecdata are, though. (And as for me, while I wasn’t the “doing it for beer money” guy and while I did need the money, I was much better off than my coworkers.)Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        I haven’t been in a fast food restaurant for a long time but glancing through window reveals that the employees are significantly older than they were when I was a teenager. A lot of this is because school is such a high pressure thing for millennial kids and younger that they don’t have time to for a part-time job at a fast food place. The fact that most purchasing is online now makes cash useless for a lot of the things teenagers want to buy anyway. Plus, the rise of micro-management as Michael points out makes employing teenagers hard because teenagers need time for school and homework.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        Or pretty much “this”–I don’t know the numbers. Whatever the numbers, adults probably make up a good proportion

        According to a heavily slanted Huff Post piece with the author quoting his own work for numbers…

        For Fast Food workers
        30% are ages 16-19.
        31% are ages 20-24
        36% are ages 25-54
        3% are 55+

        The problem is this is probably measuring the wrong stat. Better is trying to measure responsibilities (25% have kids) but even that is seriously less than perfect. This should be complex with multiple axis of data. For starters, a big question is “do they live in a household with a higher order breadwinner”? If my wife were doing fast food then her being an adult with kids would still be a non-issue.

        https://www.huffpost.com/entry/fast-food-jobs-real_n_6028404

        Also, not enough teens to go around: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/upshot/fast-food-jobs-teenagers-shortage.htmlReport

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Dark Matter
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          says:

          Note that that was from 2010-2, when the economy was in really bad shape and people were desperate for jobs. I can’t find more recent data, but I’m pretty sure the average age has shifted downwards as the economy has improved.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Brandon Berg
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            says:

            I’m pretty sure the average age has shifted downwards as the economy has improved.

            Yes, that. Full employment with unfilled jobs implies bad jobs are being squeezed out of the market as employers fight for employees.

            And I’m not sure why people pick on Fast Food anyway. We want jobs available for teenagers, temp labor, the incompetent and so forth.

            Saying these jobs need to pay a really good income is also saying my teenagers can’t work there because serious people will find them desirable.Report

            • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Dark Matter
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              says:

              “And I’m not sure why people pick on Fast Food anyway. We want jobs available for teenagers, temp labor, the incompetent and so forth.”

              On “incompetent”: technically, many of those workers are incompetent, in the sense that they lack the skills or formal training to do higher paying jobs. However, “incompetent” implies something much more judgmental and pejorative than merely lacking skills. And for that reason, that’s a word I choose not to use.

              I realize you’re not necessarily intending the pejorative implication. But I didn’t want to let my own feelings about the term to go unsaid.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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                says:

                “And so forth” was intended to cover that, but add “unskilled” to that list.

                The point I’m trying to make is…

                A lot of this conversation is “these jobs are bad”. That’s true, but so what? There is going to be a bottom of the jobs barrel.

                My kids would like jobs but they’re not serious about it and no one thinks they should be(*). The very young and inexperienced get older and gain experience. The unskilled can gain skills. The unserious (my wife for example) aren’t serious. None of these are matters for societal concern.

                That leaves… what? People with problems? People who made bad choices?

                The issue should be, if we’re finding want-to-be-serious people there who did make good choices, why is that, and what do we want to do about it?

                And I’m skeptical this problem exists on any scale. The headline figures here use easy-to-get-false-positive approximations. Is that because the better the measurement the smaller a problem this becomes?

                (*) My two older teens have increased their skills so they’re past this rung. The next one in line would view fast food as a step up from corn detasseling.Report

              • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                I think I see what you’re saying here. If I differ from your view, it’s that the line between “unserious people who made bad choices” and”want-to-be-serious people who made good choices” is not a sharp one. We all make bad choices and even the most foolish of us want to be serious at some time while even the most want-to-be-serious among us dabble in foolishness.

                Just because I think there’s a lot of gray, of course, doesn’t mean I necessarily disagree with your larger point. Some act more seriously than others and some make better choices than others.

                Circling back, I’ll just add that my objection to the term “incompetent” is mostly a personal one, because of that term’s pejorative connotations. Again, you’re not necessarily embracing those connotations.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to gabriel conroy
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                says:

                I think its interesting to compare attitudes towards fast food workers and say, autoworkers or steelworkers or coal miners, those “classic” manufacturing jobs which hold so much romantic appeal.

                I worked in both fast food and a factory and can testify that they require about the same amount of skill.
                The fast food job was making pizzas in a small restaurant, and the factory job involved loading new glass bottles into boxes, and stacking the boxes.

                Those fabled factory jobs were, to be blunt, crappy jobs. Hard, tedious, mind numbing and back breaking jobs which only the “incompetent” and unskilled took.

                That’s why they initially paid so little, and why the workers had to literally occupy the factory in a sit-down strike to demand a union.

                Yet, after unionization and a friendly legal environment, millions of factory workers raised entire generations of families on the wages of those crappy jobs, and the economy did just fine.

                Service jobs and health care jobs are the manufacturing jobs of the 21st century.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                @Chip, imagine how much better those folks would have been if half the value of the M2 wasn’t debased every 10 years, and wage rates would have stayed globally competitive. Shoot, kids might of actually been able to go to college without a bunch of debt, but of course college would have needed to stay worthy of going to.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                Indeed.
                Imagine how much better our lives would be if our wages were on par with Bangladesh or Malaysia or Vietnam.

                If Americans scrimped and saved in the hopes of one day being able to afford the perilous passage south to Mexico to take one of those terrific maquiladora jobs.

                Yes, we truly missed our opportunity.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                I know you think that is supposed to have some higher meaning, but to someone who actually packed up factories to be moved to Mexico, then watched M2 devalued over the decade afterward…..not so much.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                As we’ve seen in all the other discussions here, the final, ultimate competitor is not a Mexican or nonunion worker, but a machine.

                And no one really has any sort of response to that.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                As I have said many times here, 100% automation is ridiculously expensive for complex products, and most of the areas it is done in are about quality control.

                I have also said that when one area is automated, the product value lowers, and eventually human labor is shifted to a area that has not been, or cannot be automated.

                Automation armageddon has been preached since electricity and the electric motors arrived on the production scene. It was preached all through the analog era, and now we are in the digital. Before that it was steam.

                If you want a response I will give one. In the last days of existence, subjective value will be exchanged between two people.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                But that is not the conversation you want to have. That conversation probably pivots about either freedom from want, or freedom from fear, or maybe a combination of both.

                The first is well resolved. Mans wants have been found to be infinite. Not all men but some for sure. Ability and resources are limited. Therefore the notion of freedom from want is a foolish notion, until it CAN be proven that mans wants are limited, and the abilities and resources are available to meet that limited want, which is a reality that is not occurring.

                Freedom from fear, that is a tough one. I know that particular desire. A preference of certainty compared to uncertainty. To always know what is to happen, and that the bad can be forced out of existence before it occurs. Even if that status is achieved, are we better for it? Do we not require as part of existence the ability to meet uncertainty and adapt? Does that not make us stronger? Less path dependent?

                When uncertainty is ahead we know the difficult barriers will need to be scaled to survive. Without fear and uncertainty making us smarter, we would have no more cognitive skill than earthworms. To wish fear away is to wish the grimmest of futures.

                The problems with the two leftward freedoms is they aren’t freedoms at all, but traps in which men fall.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                Except it has already happened we just didn’t notice because it is invisible.

                The entire premise of this essay is that fast food is already nearly people-free.

                The reason automation is invisible is because it happens, not by having a machine duplicate the human labor, but by making the labor itself unnecessary.

                We don’t have “robot secretaries”, typing away on carbon paper.
                A latter day Don Draper simply taps out his memo on his laptop, and sends it instantly to the recipients.

                We don’t have “robot salesmen” hawking vacuum cleaners at our doorstep; We have banner ads in the corner of your screen.

                There are no robot managers, schedulers, dispatchers; there are algorithms and software that manage and anticipate needs and supply of manpower.

                Overall productivity has doubled in the past few decades.

                Are we twice as skilled? Working twice as long? Working twice as hard, rushing in a frenzied sweat to do twice as much work as before?

                Of course not.

                That productivity is from technology that allows us to do twice as much work with the same number of people; those missing workers are the invisible army of the displaced.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                That productivity is from technology that allows us to do twice as much work with the same number of people; those missing workers are the invisible army of the displaced.

                Someone said that a man with a backhoe is a supervisor for an entire team of virtual ditch diggers, and does about as much physical labor. Hence the gut.

                I have long pointed out that computer programmers as a group work very hard at doing themselves out of a job. Larry Wall, creator of Perl, put thousands or tens of thousands of programmers out of work all by himself.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Ever since mechanical advantage has existed work has been displaced, yet people still have plenty of work to do.

                It’s like you keep arguing we are on the road to a dead end, even though when we look back to the last three on ramps, each consecutive highway is getting wider.

                Technology is not narrowing the abundance of available niches, it is increasing the number.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                Automation armageddon has been preached since electricity and the electric motors arrived on the production scene.

                It long predates that. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

                The eventual way to deal with this problem was to shoot protesters and implement mechanical automation as much as technology allowed. That’s why we do knitting by machine rather than by hand nowadays. Hand knitting jobs at any kind of scale are gone, we don’t mourn them.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                the final, ultimate competitor is not a Mexican or nonunion worker, but a machine. And no one really has any sort of response to that.

                My response is: “Don’t worry, be happy.” Serious and well used econ Theory says machines will increase productivity and pay. See also “Lump of Labor”.

                Chip: (From a different post) That productivity is from technology that allows us to do twice as much work with the same number of people; those missing workers are the invisible army of the displaced.

                We’re at full employment. That “invisible army” is employed doing something else.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                Of course people find jobs, that’s not the measurement.

                Its like saying that there is a tremendous demand for oranges because the entire crop was sold, while ignoring that the price has dropped.

                Workers are accepting lower wages and worse job security and fewer benefits, showing that the demand for their labor is weak.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Well yeah, the wages were inflated above global averages for decades.

                You may get away with that for awhile, but eventually you will have to get competitive or suffer the results.

                It’s not that the demand for labor is weak, it’s demand for non-competitive labor is weak.

                That it is portrayed as some great mystery is a performance art.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                Just wages were inflated?
                Property and land costs weren’t also inflated?
                Consumer goods didn’t cost more here than elsewhere?

                Has anyone ever warned 5th Avenue Manhattan real estate owners that they better lower their rents to Mississippi levels or hoo boy, everyone is going to leave?

                You’re touching on something real, though, which is that global technology has allowed us to live in different worlds simultaneously .

                I can earn a First World income in Los Angeles, yet purchase goods from a Third World worker, who pays Third World rents and prices.

                Which is sweet!

                But it works the other way, too. A person in America can also find himself competing with that Third World worker’s wages, while also being compelled to pay First World rents.

                Not. So. Sweet.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Huh, will looky there, it’s like minimum wage inflated a lot of other stuff. Again, a massive amount of performance art in not just recognizing that in every single premise involved in discussing the US economy.

                We took the wrong path with pushing minimum wage to a non competitive level, now we are paying the fiddler in every way imaginable.

                Even Manhattan real estate owners will not get out of the correction to equilibrium.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JoeSal
                Ignored
                says:

                I suppose you could advance an argument that eventually all wages and prices the world over will reach equilibrium, to where rents in Mumbai and Manhattan are equal.

                But that ignores actual history, where some things are amenable to global reach while others only react to local forces.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Wow, we are talking about labor and you keep injecting rents. Rents will be different, some people have skill/ability levels which afford them better living facilities than others.

                This is true in Mumbai or Manhattan. Rents will be across a range in Manhattan or Mumbai. If the wages were similar and the facilities were of equal value and within the same placement on the supply/demand parameters, you would yes, expect the rent ranges to be similar. If there was some distinct value that placed one over the other, you would see a disparity.

                Supply and demand have a long history, as well as wage distortions, subjective values, and rents. You are not ignorant of these, yet here we are…..again

                I’m starting to think we should listen to the propertarians and just assume that there is a learning barrier here that will never be overcome. What is this, the third time we’ve been through this?

                And tomorrow it will be some big mystery once again, and more dancing of the performing arts.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Household size?
                “Yeah, I am earning the same as a guy ten years ago, but he had two kids and I have one, so technically my “income per household member” is much higher.”Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                The big issue is divorce, rates went up a lot in the last 70 years. Turning one family into two pushes down the average per family a lot.

                This is why that link’s chart with just “Married 2-Earner Households” is such an good line up. Even though it’s not adjusting for number of children it removes divorce distortions.

                Real median income for married couples with both spouses working reached a new all-time record high last year of $111,000 and has more than doubled from $54,700 in 1963.

                If you changing the starting point to right after the war ended it’s even more absurdly good.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Workers are accepting lower wages and worse job security and fewer benefits, showing that the demand for their labor is weak.

                If you mean “some worker somewhere” then that’s an absurd measurement.

                If you mean “all workers as a whole” then you’re wrong. Median income is going up, not down (see graph below). For that matter since unemployment is also going down the demand for labor is going up, not down.

                And keep in mind the below graph suffers from using the wrong metric for inflation and doesn’t adjust for different family mixes so it’s under reporting how well things are going.

                https://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2018/8/1/saupload_median-household-income-in-the-21st-century-nominal-and-real-estimates-200001-thru-201806.png

                Its like saying that there is a tremendous demand for oranges because the entire crop was sold, while ignoring that the price has dropped.

                Except that the price hasn’t dropped, it’s increased.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                Workers today have less job security; Less paid vacation time; Less secure retirements.

                They also are required to get more credentials and degrees, taking on more college debt than before.

                They are retiring later in life, buying houses later in life, carrying more debt than previous generations.

                And worst of all, these are happening in a relatively good economy, after nearly a decade since the previous recession.

                These are not the metrics of prosperity.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Quickly! Better import more lower-skilled laborers!Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                You’re mixing absolute and relative advantages. The percentage of people with college degrees now matches the percentage of people with high school before.

                If you want the amount of money that a HS degree gave, you can still get that. You can even get the same absolute lifestyle it gave. What you don’t get is the same relative lifestyle. What was a 30th percentile upper income is now probably 70% percentile (those numbers are a WAG).

                We’ve tripled the absolute income we had since the start of the golden period of labor. If you want an upper 30% percentile job now, yes you need “more credentials and degrees”. However that job didn’t even exist back in the day.

                While we’re on the subject of why-things-suck for someone with a HS degree who would have been 30th percentile 70 years ago; They’re also subject to competition from people that were excluded back then. Women and minorities weren’t allowed to have those 30th+ percentile jobs, so getting one (if you were straight, white, and male) was easier.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                “That “invisible army” is employed doing something else.”

                Or maybe it stayed unemployed for a couple decades, died, and wasn’t replaced.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make.

                Yes, dead people don’t work… but US population is going up, not down.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                “I worked in both fast food and a factory and can testify that they require about the same amount of skill.
                The fast food job was making pizzas in a small restaurant, and the factory job involved loading new glass bottles into boxes, and stacking the boxes.”

                Respectfully, that doesn’t actually sound like factory work. That’s basically entry-level warehouse work. Actual manufacturing is quite a bit different, although yes, it can still be very boring.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to gabriel conroy
                Ignored
                says:

                Part of my dislike of social constructs is that chance processes will skew the grey area of what looks like good&bad choices.

                If two employees interview for a job and it is 50/50 chance, and by random luck one guy gets the ‘skill’ job, then the next time he turns in a resume, he has that skilled job listed, while the unlucky one doesn’t.

                Then the guy who had the one ‘skilled’ job will eventually have two superior jobs on his resume because of the chance process of the first.

                I suffered terribly under this in my youth when skilled jobs were scarce because of local conditions. As I was able to win better skilled jobs it became much easier, and It’s weird that I overshot the norm and now have to strip resumes down to avoid being overqualified for some positions I pursue.

                I don’t think the labor market or labor in general will see better conditions until affects of chance processes in social constructs can be recognized and minimized.

                Where I run into conflict with many people is they think a ‘bigger/better’ social construct is needed to fix the problem, and that introduces yet more chance processes into bigger/multiple of systems.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to JoeSal
                Ignored
                says:

                -misthread-Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to JoeSal
                Ignored
                says:

                chance processes will skew the grey area of what looks like good&bad choices.

                True… but it’s easy to over state this.

                If two employees interview for a job and it is 50/50 chance, and by random luck one guy gets the ‘skill’ job, then the next time he turns in a resume, he has that skilled job listed, while the unlucky one doesn’t.

                This assumes there is only one job, and after one failed interview the unlucky guy is just screwed. In reality there’s probably 10 people who interview and the odds of success are only 10% at best.

                All of my jobs came from pretty random interactions, however big picture they also weren’t the result of a single interview. Each time I had a lot of other interviews and failed, with the first job I think I sent out three digits worth of resumes. If I’m looking for work then I keep rolling dice until I succeed.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                With minimum wage rates, there is the possibility of only one job in a specific location, and that’s one of the many reasons I am agsinst it. But yes, my example was very narrow to illustrate that some measure of chance processes do exist. A determined person may overcome the barrier easier than others.

                That parameter favors tenacity.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to JoeSal
                Ignored
                says:

                The problem is for the less tenacity types, it’s easy to have someone whisper in your ear that these chance processes are actually a failure of capitalism, and not of chance processes in social constructs.Report

        • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Dark Matter
          Ignored
          says:

          Thanks for the statistics. Even with your caveats (and even accounting for however slanted the numbers might be), I’m surprised that that many adults are working in fast food. (I confess I haven’t clicked on the links.)

          Anecdotally, of the adults I knew who worked fast food, some indeed did live in households with higher order breadwinners. Some did not. I don’t know the proportions, and of course, my anecdotes are just anecdotes anyway.

          I do suspect that many of those who lived with higher order breadwinners still needed the income for necessities. I realize that sentence uses a couple of weasel words (“suspec,” and “many”) and a word that could mean anything (“necessities”).

          I will say that if I (and Saul) are mostly right (a point I realize is in dispute…we haven’t proven our point), none of that necessarily entails a certain policy solution. But thanks for actually introducing some facts (however slanted and in need of caveats) to the discussion.Report

  9. Avatar Pinky
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m sure that customers have become more comfortable with automated kiosks over the last couple of decades. I know when I go to the grocery store it doesn’t even occur to me to wait in the assisted checkout lines.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Pinky
      Ignored
      says:

      What I want on the fast-food kiosk is access to the screen the employees use when they take your order, preferably at my eye level. An employee can handle “Quarter Pounder meal, medium size, for here,” with about four button touches, all on the same screen. To place the same order at the kiosk requires five or six different screens and upwards of 20 button touches. Some of the touches are near eye level, a couple of them are lower than my navel. And then the kiosk has the nerve to tell me I have to go to the counter and show my receipt so someone can give me my drink cup.Report

      • Avatar Frank Benlin in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        > And then the kiosk has the nerve to tell me I have to go to the counter and show my receipt so someone can give me my drink cup.

        This is because others were stealing them.Report

      • Avatar jason in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        This. The UI on the kiosks is horrible.Report

        • Avatar Frank Benlin in reply to jason
          Ignored
          says:

          I like them because they allow me to customize my order without having to deal with another human messing it up.Report

          • Avatar jason in reply to Frank Benlin
            Ignored
            says:

            That’s a good point. Sometimes the people making the food mess up an order, and sometimes the cashier just doesn’t listen. You can control for one of those.Report

            • Avatar Frank Benlin in reply to jason
              Ignored
              says:

              > sometimes the cashier just doesn’t listen

              Case in point: Today in the drivethru the disembodied voice insisted that Sausage McGriddles were no longer on the menu. He insisted the best he could do for me was to ring up a Sausage, Egg, & Cheese McGriddle, hold the egg & cheese.

              Why wasn’t I happy about this? Because the item he ring up was much more expensive than the item I ordered, and you don’t get a discount when you ask them to hold things. Out of principle, I didn’t order it.

              When I went on McDonald’s website, sure enough what I ordered is still on the menu, so I guess the disembodied voice couldn’t find the button. Now if I had gone side, I could have used those big pictures and taken my time to order what I wanted, instead of being at the mercy of the cashier.Report

          • Avatar Pinky in reply to Frank Benlin
            Ignored
            says:

            Customizing is risky, but even getting a straightforward Number 1 Meal can be tough. I live in a place with some thick accents. A picture of a burger and french fries in a little circle is universal.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Pinky
              Ignored
              says:

              Where they really need the kiosk is the drive through.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                That would be hell. If you drive in just a few inches further from the kiosk, you have some guy vainly trying to reach the screen then trying to get out of his car and doing so. It defeats the purpose of a drive thruReport

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                I read somewhere that some places outsource the “answering” part to a call center some distance from the restaurant; once the order’s taken it’s conveyed to the people making the food electronically on a screen.

                Not sure how true/widespread this is but I remember reading it.

                I fully expect in a few years “drive through” will be “order using our proprietary app on your phone first, then drive to the window to pay and get food.”Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to fillyjonk
                Ignored
                says:

                That would be what I see. Order on the app, and when you get to the drive through, you just show them a QR code that is linked to your order.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                A local McDs has an app where you can place your order and designated parking spaces where you can go wait for someone to bring your order out. Never used one.

                I was at a McDs grand reopening a few years ago. Someone had driven a van through the building, so they did a redesign. Two things I remember the owner saying in his speech: (1) Just because we’re adding kiosks doesn’t mean we’ll have less employees; we’ll have more employees in the kitchen and we’ll be bringing your food to your table or your car. (2) Everyone in his family has worked for a McDonalds (introduces a lot of family members and tells where they started — points out his newest daugher-in-law wearing a paper hat because she’s on break), they start at the bottom just like everyone else.

                I’m skeptical that the newest daughter-in-law has the same experience that I would if I started to work there, but I do admire the owner’s notion that there is nothing wrong about his family earning at least little bit on their own.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Frank Benlin
            Ignored
            says:

            Sure, but the UI can still suck.Report

      • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        I would be more happy using kiosks or automated checkouts if they’d give me a discount over going to a real human for help. All automated checkouts are are a way for stores to schedule fewer employees. The local wal-mart (which I dislike shopping at but sometimes you have a choice between that and driving an hour’s round trip…) has like 30 checkouts and usually 2 staffed at any one time….and then the automated ones, which frequently crash or glitch and then you have to wait for one of the few employees to be free.

        I have bitterly remarked that the future of shopping is probably being handed a miner’s lamp and a boxcutter, and pushed into a big dark warehouse and told “What you need is in there….somewhere…good luck.”Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Pinky
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m told that self check out in groceries is gonna need a massive overhaul and will probably need more people because shrinkage is going through the roof. A lot of steak is walking out the door paid for as yellow bananas at 65 cents a pound.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        If you look, those self checkout lines have cameras looking at the scale plate, and those cameras are (IIRC) connected to an AI that is supposed to be able to differentiate between a banana and a steak. Not sure how many stores use that…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        At my stores, all the meat is weighed and packaged/marked elsewhere in the store. The only thing your doing yourself is produce.

        Does anyone’s stores have the scan-as-you-shop guns? Stop-and-Shop/Giant on the east coast have had them for a while.Report

        • Avatar Fish in reply to Kazzy
          Ignored
          says:

          The King Sooper on the East side of the Springs has them, but I’ve never used them.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy
          Ignored
          says:

          I think the idea is that you key in the code for bananas, put your steak on the scale, and then put five pounds of “bananas” in the bag. You don’t actually scan the barcode on the meat package.

          ****

          Although this also seems like one of those things where the savings from only paying one minder instead of four cashier-and-bagger teams makes up for the occasional cheat.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to DensityDuck
            Ignored
            says:

            You’ve got the general gist of it. My own impulse would guess the same thing as you are. I have a friend who works on programming for the self check out machines for Kroger and he claims that shrinkage is a massive and growing problem with self check out systems. I cannot, myself, vouch for whether he’s right or not. Perhaps he’s being hyperbolic since I don’t see any electronic check out lanes disappearing. But groceries are a low margin business so customers wouldn’t need to abscond with a ton of “banana steak” to rack up some significant costs.Report

  10. Avatar Patrick
    Ignored
    says:

    Heh; my piece for this symposium dovetails nicely with this one.Report

  11. Avatar DensityDuck
    Ignored
    says:

    “I like the human touch,” says the guy who likes the idea of an actual person whose whole life revolves around making food just for him–but doesn’t want to, like, pay sit-down restaurant prices for it.Report

  12. Avatar DensityDuck
    Ignored
    says:

    A relevant article:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2015-mcdonalds-franchises/

    One interesting bit that lines up with a view I’ve held:
    “[An economist] offers an alternate possibility: that the retirement of people Jarvis’s age will make room for a younger, more energetic wave of franchisees. The buyer of [a former franchise owner’s] outlets is Keith Berg, 41, a second-generation franchisee who already owns two locations.”

    There’s also this:
    “If he were McDonald’s CEO, [the former owner] says, he’d get rid of the bagels, wraps, and salads and move the foo-foo drinks to standalone McCafés in strip malls. He likes the idea of using kiosks for custom ordering, which he says should improve order accuracy and reduce arguments with customers.”

    Which is another idea that I’ve had; that McDonald’s might strip itself down to “McDonald’s Express” which only serves burgers (and just quarter-pounder size), fries, drinks, chicken nuggets, and chicken sandwiches, all done with heavy automation (like the fry line could be completely automatic), and no sit-in dining room. These are the locations out in town or on a highway, whereas you also have diner-size “McDonald’s Classic” that offer the full menu with a sitting area (but the prices are more expensive and the service is slower.)Report

  13. Avatar George Turner
    Ignored
    says:

    Dallas ice cream shop has better employees

    Like other restaurants, he had an employee turnover problem, but he figured out a solution.Report

  1. September 2, 2019

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