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Obama Says He Wants to Help Workers. He Might Just Be Helping Robots Find New Jobs


"A hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay."

Via Shutterstock

It's Labor Day weekend, and President Barack Obama chose to celebrate the holiday by flogging one of his favorite issues: the minimum wage.

"In America, no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty," Obama said in his weekly address Saturday morning. "A hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. And raising the minimum wage would be one of the best ways to give a boost to working families."

Obama praised those who have raised wages, but he did not draw a distinction between the free choices of businesses and the market-distorting force of government.

"Mayor Emanuel in Chicago and Mayor Garcetti in L.A. are working to lift their cities’ wages over time to at least thirteen dollars an hour," Obama said, praising the mayors for "doing their part" before touting his own executive order. "I’ve tried to do my part by requiring companies that get contracts with the federal government to pay their workers a fair wage of ten dollars and ten cents an hour."

Obama also praised clothing retailer Gap Inc. for raising wages, and noted the personal sacrifice of a university head.

"Earlier this month, the president of Kentucky State University set a great example by giving himself a $90,000 pay cut, so that he could give raises to his lowest-paid employees," Obama noted. "His sacrifice will give more of his workers and their families a little extra money to help make ends meet."

Obama's conflation of business and government action might alarm economists and workers.

A business raising wages freely is choosing to employ workers at higher wage rates, but government-mandated wage hikes present businesses with two options: shell out more in wages, or employ fewer workers.

Economists have debated what immediate impact a minimum wage hike would have on employment in the short term, but over the long term, many have argued, a higher minimum wage will speed up businesses' adoption of robotic workers.

So long, clerks and waitresses, hello iPads.

Of course, only a small percentage of American workers actually earn minimum wage, and with the American labor force participation rate already disappointingly low, it's difficult to predict how much of an impact a minimum wage hike would have on the national workforce.

But as numerous economists have noted, the more expensive people get, the faster businesses will turn to machines to get the job done.

Featured image via Shutterstock

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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