The Corner

Economy & Business

Flipping Burgers Is Not a ‘Bad Job’

Bernie Sanders’s idea of providing a $15-per-hour government job to anyone who wants one is cartoonish. My back-of-the-envelope calculations find over 80 million workers who earn less in their current job than they would under the Sanders proposal. And there are over 100 million non-workers who might want one of those government jobs, too.

Needless to say, no feasible combination of tax increases and spending cuts exists to finance this program. And even if we found a money tree, what would all those workers actually do all day? There’s zero chance the government could come up with enough jobs to make this idea work.

Case closed on the Sanders proposal.

But the conversation surrounding the proposal highlights two larger issues, as I discuss in my latest Bloomberg column. The first is the government’s role in ensuring that people who want jobs can get them. This role extends beyond the competent execution of monetary policy. Supply-side policies, like earnings subsidies, are needed. And during severe recessions it’s reasonable to look at demand-side policies as well.

The second larger issue is an animating force behind the Sanders proposal: the notion that many jobs are “bad jobs” — a view increasingly common on the political left. I put it like this over at Bloomberg:

Flipping burgers for $10 an hour isn’t a “bad job.” It’s an opportunity to build skills and climb the employment ladder. It’s an opportunity to provide for yourself and your family. It’s an opportunity to make a contribution to your community and to society.

Our leaders shouldn’t denigrate the jobs held by millions of hard-working Americans. Their rhetoric should encourage work by acknowledging its inherent dignity and virtue. That message matters.

Michael R. Strain — Michael R. Strain is the director of economic-policy studies and the Arthur F. Burns Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute.  

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