Be careful what you wish for

Published 6:33 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The “Fight for $15” movement has come as close as Greenville. Two weeks ago, all sorts of minimum-wage employees protested for higher pay.

Many massive companies have made proactive moves in light of the traction gained by the protests. A lot of the changes made have replaced human employees with technology and automated technology.

McDonald’s recently announced that self-service kiosks will be rolled out nationwide. These operate a lot like those at Sheetz in that a customer will be responsible for ordering his own meal instead of speaking with a human cashier.

“The push for a $15 starter wage has negatively impacted the career prospects of employees who were just getting started in the workforce while extinguishing the businesses that employed them,” former president and CEO of McDonald’s UDA Ed Rensi wrote in a Nov. 29 Forbes article.

The concept is fundamental to microeconomics. As the price of something rises, the demand of it falls. Companies are demanding less labor in reaction to expected rises in price. Technology that can replace unskilled workers becomes much more appealing.

Another incredible feat on the same front has been the grocery stores that Amazon is testing. The store, called Amazon Go, simply asks customers to tap their smartphone as they walk in. The impressive technology tracks what the customers pick up and put in their bags, return to shelves and charges them as they walk out.

No check-out line means no cashiers or baggers.

The unemployment rate here in Beaufort County has largely been on a decline since climbing all the way to 12.9 percent in January 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number, currently sitting at 5.7 percent as of August, is in danger.

Yes, these automated systems that replace the need for labor are a threat to jobs all over the nation. Beaufort County, though, prides itself on its small businesses. These folks don’t have the capital to incorporate such technology, meaning one of the only ways they can endure a massive hike in the minimum wage is to lay off employees.

More money in the pocket of hard-working Americans always sounds like a great idea on paper, but be careful what you wish for.