Recently I learned that the fast food chain McDonald’s will be further automating their ordering system. Now they will need fewer people. I don’t patron fast-food restaurants much anymore as I have committed to a diet and managed to lose 20 pounds since August. That’s a New Year’s resolution from last year that I intend to continue. But I digress.
Innovation by McDonald’s isn’t new. It has been part of the operation since its beginning. Their early model focused on speed, that is, getting the food in the hands of customers faster. That meant more people would be needed to handle throughput. But the technology revolution has also offered companies like McDonald’s an option that now impacts employment opportunities for people entering the workforce.
You have probably seen the touchscreen menu boards in their restaurants. No longer do you need to wait in line behind a customer as they “hum” and “haw” while poring over food options, only then to declare “wait, I’ve changed my mind.” Now you can walk in, tap in your preference, pay, and wait for your order while perusing your cell phone. It’s an efficient opportunity. Get your food while checking your emails. But that means there are fewer food attendants needed to take orders.
Now McDonald’s has announced that they’ll be testing robotic drive-through lanes. That will require even fewer humans. No one should be surprised that the food giant is turning once again to technology for solutions. Once they depended on manpower while offering employees entry-level work experience. Even in 1965 when I held my first job as hat and coat check at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts when they had special events, I knew that I was not going to be a career cloakroom attendant. But technology has changed that too. There will be fewer such entry jobs in the future.
For years a fast food job was an initial opportunity to learn how to hold a job, show up on time, provide service, and be responsible. They never paid much because the intent was not to become a career burger flipper, but rather to earn a modest wage while in school or gaining basic work experience and skills to advance higher in the job market. The word “entry” comes to mind.
All was well until social justice busybodies decided that it was their mission to demand a “living wage,” for fast food workers. Entry-level jobs are not and never will be jobs that provide enough money as a sole income. They can help, but they are low wage for a reason; they offer a person the opportunity for work experience and growth. They will never be as generous as skilled vocation salaries.
So, what does this have to do with technology? This. When the far-left demands $15 per hour to take orders at a fast food counter, they should not be surprised to hear the soft and friendly voice at the drive through window manned by a robot who will also tee up your “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun” and an order of fries (still the best out there). Indeed, the far-left wage inflation gurus have managed to increase unemployment by demanding higher wages for entry-level jobs that were never intended to provide sufficient income for a person to live well. They demand of an entry-level job that which it was never designed to do and now companies are responding. Technology will increasingly eliminate entry-level employment. Technology bypasses minimum wages.
Should we be surprised? Not really. Look around. There are no longer human computers with slide rules, no pin boys to reset the pins in bowling alleys, no elevator operators, no one working a telephone switchboard, fewer checkout cashiers, limited assembly line workers, no warehouse attendants on roller skates (yep, they existed), no data-entry clerks, fewer bank tellers, and little need for travel agents.
The irony in all of this is that when these jobs went by the wayside, it wasn’t uncommon for people to look for an entry-level job to tide them over until they could secure a new career. Now that option is further limited.
So, what’s the lesson here that McDonalds is offering us? First, technology becomes affordable to replace jobs when social justice warriors demand higher minimum wages that are excessive for the work being done. Economics 101. Second, with fewer entry-level jobs, people looking for bridge employment will be more likely to go on the government dole, paid for by taxpayers. And finally, maybe the far-left should avoid college majors in community organizing, social justice, and political activism. Try productive real world degrees in math, science, engineering, and business. If they do, they’ll learn how the economy actually works.
Former Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter is a retired Army colonel and the author of “Desert Redleg: Artillery Warfare in the First Gulf War” (University Press of Kentucky). He served in the Virginia General Assembly from 2002 to 2018 on the House Education Committee.