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Among the many impacts of COVID-19 and the restrictions on public life it entailed, it possibly rendered minimum wage a moot point in certain job classifications and communities, including Ellensburg.

A drive down fast-food row will show multiple fast-food restaurants offering wages of $15 an hour and more. This is in a state with a minimum wage $13.69 an hour. It is worth noting that many family-owned businesses in Kittitas County, including in the food sector, have long paid more than this state’s minimum wage to attract and retain workers, even in traditionally “minimum wage” jobs.

This state’s high minimum wage gets portrayed by some as a “job killer” or “business destroyer.” Apparently, it more than met its match in COVID.

One of the impacts of COVID is that people working in minimum wage jobs, such has fast-food, have questioned whether they want to work in these jobs. The federal minimum wage assistance (still available in Washington state) created the breathing space for some to evaluate their job status.

When some of these lower wage jobs turned out to be “essential” during the COVID crackdowns, the value of the work obviously exceeded the wage paid.

The question is whether the end of the federal unemployment assistance (slated for September) will remove the leverage workers currently enjoy or there will be an understanding and acceptance that those jobs should pay more?

Higher wages (and benefit costs), particularly in the restaurant sector, lead to higher menu prices. Traditionally the margin at a small, locally owned restaurant, is relatively small. Whether that statement applies in international fast-food chains is another question.

Taking an ever bigger picture look, there is also something called wage-pushed inflation. The U.S. is seeing a bit of an inflation bump, but there are other factors at play with that such as disruptions in the supply chain caused by COVID restrictions.

However this shakes out, it is worth thinking about and discussing the value we place on different types of employment.

It sounds simplistic and obvious to say this, but if we ease the pressure on people to make their bills, even slightly, they will hesitate to take some jobs, particularly jobs with high stress and demand levels, night and weekend hours, relatively low pay and interactions that may not be enjoyable — whether demanding bosses or complaining public.

Is the world a better place when people feel forced to take those jobs? A burger and fries may be cheaper but what about the human cost?

Perhaps we were able to delude ourselves into thinking, “What that person really wants to do is stand at that hot grill … steamy dish room … behind that counter listening to irate customers … for as little of money as the law allows.”

COVID, its shutdown and its enhanced unemployment assistance exposed that as a false narrative.

Maybe this discussion will lead to asking people who work these jobs, what would make it a better workplace? We may end up learning more about each other.

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