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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

$15 an hour is a joke

Posted By on Tue, Sep 14, 2021 at 11:34 AM

  • Five Guys photo via Adobe Stock

If you happened to open (or, let's be honest, click on) the Orlando Sentinel this morning, you would have seen the latest round of hosannas for a business owner offering their employees $15 an hour.

In a profile of a move made by Hawkers Asian Street Food in June, an employee beams from inside the Florida-based operation and notes that a recent raise to $15 an hour for non-tipped work and $8 an hour for tipped work has allowed her to move toward her goal of eventually not having to work there. She notes that she's able to put away $100 a week. The only question we have about this move is "when are we all going to stop falling for this?"

Fifteen dollars an hour is not a livable wage in Orlando. It's not livable in most of Central Florida, for that matter. Rent estimates vary, but the average apartment is somewhere between $1,400-$1,600 per month in this city. At that rate, a full-time worker making $15 an hour would be spending anywhere from half to nearly tw0-thirds of their income on rent. Buying a house doesn't offer much relief either, as the average price of homes in the area continues to skyrocket even after passing record highs.

Now, to be clear, Hawkers Asian Street Food ownership does deserve some credit. No one forced them to raise their wages (the pressure of not being able to find employees notwithstanding).

Hawkers could have thrown up their hands like a certain barbecue restaurant in Winter Park and offered the "no one wants to work" excuse that is endemic among small business tyrants. (The fact that people are working every day and no one wants to work for them never seems to cross their minds.)

They didn't. And, in fact, they raised their experienced employees' wages as well to compensate for the new floor. Nearly three-quarters of all employees saw a raise. That's undoubtedly a good thing and, while it was done to ease getting back to business, it objectively made life a little less miserable for the chain's several hundred employees. We mean no ill will toward them and love their roti canai as much at the next hungry Orlandoan.

The point here is not to single out one Orlando-area business, it's to strike at the practice of running articles like this. Treating the idea of paying your employees just enough so they won't have to skip bills should not be met with praise. Fifteen dollars an hour is a joke now and it will only get less funny as the state creeps toward making it the minimum wage in 2026.

We aren't naive enough to think area restaurateurs are going to loosen their pursestrings en masse, but we can and should expect more from all employers.

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