retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Jumping into the continuing minimum wage discussion, MNB reader Kevin Davis sent me the following email:

Kevin, Your commentary on this issue appears as though you are considering the potential success or failure of minimum wage law increases on a very superficial evaluation of WalMart’s actions. A $1 dollar increase by a company that historically underpays relative to competition ( fair market wages required to get employees to hire on and stay once you’ve trained them), has nothing to do with minimum wage laws.  They can’t find employees, and when they do, they have trouble keeping them; so they raise the starting wage commensurate with competitive starting wages at other companies they compete with.

Conversely, arbitrarily raising a minimum wage to $15.50 over a few years ( a 50% increase over prevailing minimum wages) in many large cities across the country in an attempt to “create” an artificial economic improvement without compensating improvements in efficiency or production will simply fuel local or regional inflation in the cost of living for those who can least afford to pay for it.  Those minimum wage workers who are forced to live there; because the nearby suburbs cost of housing, transportation, and general living expenses are even higher; will simply pay for their own minimum wage increase or get less hours or maybe even lose jobs as businesses close or leave the city.

It will make an interesting case study, at the expense of jobs and economic growth I’m afraid. Or perhaps our large city politicians have stumbled upon the secret code to economic growth and prosperity, just raise minimum wages. If it works they should share it with Greece and Brazil and every third world county facing bankruptcy.

All reasonable points. And I try to make it a habit not to argue with Kevin Davis, simply because it never is a good thing to argue with people who are a lot smarter than me.

Just to be clear ... it was never my intention to equate Walmart's wage increases with the broader minimum wage movement. Kevin is absolutely right about this - they are two entirely different things. But because I ran a clip from a Crain's New York Business story which did sort of equate the two, it is a fair assumption that I felt the same way. (For the record, I run a lot of stories on MNB that I disagree with.)

I am extremely sympathetic to the position that increased wages could cost jobs and inhibit an economic recovery. I am less so when it comes to the argument - sometimes advanced here by certain readers - that any minimum wage is socialism, and ought to be disposed of.

Where I run into trouble rationalizing all this is when it comes to people who may be working 50 or 60 hours a week at minimum wage jobs because that's all that is available to them, for employers who believe it is their mission to keep labor costs as low as possible, and then cut them some more. Those people may not be in a position to get more training or education so they can get better jobs, because they've got to feed their families and pay the rent ... and even if you work 50 or 60 hours a week, if all you are making is minimum wage, it is hard to get by without some reliance on public services, which has its own impact on the economy, not to mention the culture.

If the two warring factions in this argument could sit down and figure out a nuanced, sophisticated, compassionate and yet economically sound way to address these issues, I'd be all for it. And if it could be done in such a way that state and federal minimum wages laws don't have to be changed, all the better.

But I don't hear the low murmur of intense and reasonable discussion, but rather the clanging bell of a dissonant and dysfunctional political system that isn't addressing the problem.

MNB reader Larry Ishii had some thoughts about yesterday's piece about Millennial dads:

I find this passage particularly interesting.
“…their higher average spending ($170 compared to $108 of all) and increased cost per item. The implication is that Millennial dads are likely seeking out quality over a good deal."

I wonder if the Millennial dad might not feel the same constraints over spending (total spending or spending more for given items) vs. the woman of the household.

Being a baby boomer, such dynamics were very common when the woman/mom shopped, feeling a need to keep spending within the budget – actual or imagined.
For all the differences between the generations that we talk about, I wonder if some of the old “beliefs” still have a hold.

Regarding the Starbucks customer who made a fuss about non-disabled people who parked in disabled-only spots, one MNB user wrote:

Like many people, I once thought that there were always plenty of empty disabled parking spaces everywhere I went.  Then I broke my foot and could not walk for 4 months.  What I found is that it is very difficult to find a disabled spot most of the time when going anywhere that is desirable, and often the cars in the spots have no sticker or tag.

From another reader:

I read your article about the individual enforcing handicapped parking spaces at Starbucks and your comments about being a rule follower about marked spots.  While I agree with you and act similarly with most spaces I have recently drawn the line when traveling in your usual neck of the woods, the Merritt Parkway.  The rest stops along the way are wonderful as you can quickly make a restroom stop or grab a coffee without taking as much time as you would on a major road but the downside is that parking is somewhat limited.

Recently I have noticed that several of the spaces are taken up with Tesla charging stations, others are marked for low emissions vehicles and others are for high occupancy vehicles, leaving very few for others.  While I believe that the Handicapped ones are sacrosanct, I have begun using the others if necessary.

Hard to imagine that taking a Tesla's designated parking space is the first step down the slippery slope of anarchy ... but you never know.

And from another MNB reader:

Can someone please answer the phone I think its the irony police calling.  I am guessing that a majority of the fully abled folks parking in the disabled spots are the same ones who supported politicians and policies that have shuttered countless small business due to frivolous ADA lawsuits.

This same misplaced compassion ensures that a large portion of the lot at my local Lowes is lined up with at least 10 of these spots that are never used.  The problem with the Starbucks customers is that they forgot to point out that the rules are not supposed to apply to them - especially when they racing to get their $4 coffee.  I say some public shaming might be a good reminder that the world does not revolve around them.

I have a problem with the notion that parking spaces for the disabled is "misplaced compassion." Not where I come from.

And I am amused by the political prism through that this reader uses to view the situation. I presume that when he refers to "a majority of the fully abled folks parking in the disabled spots (who) are the same ones who supported politicians and policies that have shuttered countless small business due to frivolous ADA lawsuits," he is writing about liberals.

And the thing is, I'd be willing to bet that about a third of the people parking in these spaces are, in fact, liberals. Another third probably are conservatives (who like $4 coffee as much as liberals, it has been my experience). And the other third are people like me who are sick to death of people finding every possible reason to throw a political rock.

Maybe it is just that the people who use disabled parking spaces are so wrapped up in their own lives and immediate needs that they can't see beyond the moment ... regardless of their political philosophies.

On the subject of people who leave their children in cars, one MNB user wrote:

This is one I just don’t get. I cannot imagine “forgetting” my child is in the car. Now to be fair neither one of my children was particularly quiet while in the car unless the trip was longer than to daycare or the store AND my daycare was the opposite direction of work so going to daycare was not on the way but sort of a destination. I don’t have a problem with preventing procreation if you can’t take care of the child you already have. I think a reminder beep that you have a passenger is a good idea and well worth the money.

I still think my original "idiot parents" crack was unnecessary.

And MNB reader Andrew Whelan wrote:

Thanks for passing along the Weingarten article (from the Washington Post). I have a toddler and another due any day. Heart-wrenching and difficult to read while very important at the same time. I’m not sure this will move us to purchase the product (a baby car seat that signals that a child is in it when the ignition is turned off), but I know what the topic of conversation with my wife will be tonight.
KC's View: