Dec. 31--Missouri's minimum wage will increase Wednesday.
The Missouri Department of Labor announced in November that some of the state's lowest-paid workers will see a 15-cent increase, up from $7.35 an hour to $7.50.
State law calls for the wage to be increased on Jan. 1 every year based on the cost of living determined in a consumer price index survey. The current hourly rate was set in 2011.
In some years, the wage does not increase if consumer prices remain flat. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
The change seems insignificant as organizations across the country rally for pay hikes as high as $15 an hour for those in the fast food sector.
The Service Employees International Union was behind some of the largest fast food strikes this year. Their chief concern is getting a fair wage for workers, an amount that will allow them to support a family.
There are an estimated 3.5 million Americans working in the fast-food industry, half of which rely on public assistance. And nearly 1.7 million who work in the industry and make minimum wage are 24 years old or older.
For the younger workers, however, fast food or another entry-level minimum wage job is a first step. Some of the most successful business leaders came from these humble beginnings. The incoming chief executive officer of Walmart, Doug McMillon, began his career unloading trucks at the company's distribution center.
Higher incomes are good for American families, but the wages could impact employment, among other things.
"It would make it very, very hard to operate," Randy Russell said about $15 per hour pay. "You'd have to have less people, and get more work out of an individual."
Mr. Russell, who owns a Mr. Goodcents Subs & Pastas in St. Joseph, said that besides the outrageous cost of a sandwich, customer service would suffer as well.
"The product could not be good either," he said. "It'd be tough."
There are a lot of assumptions about how a spike in fast food salaries would impact food costs. Inevitably, business owners would have to pass the cost of paying their employees onto their customers.
Currently, there is only a few dollars difference between a burger and fries at a sit-down restaurant in St. Joseph versus the drive-through, excluding the value menus.
According to the company's online menu, Applebees charges $9.49 for a bacon cheddar cheeseburger and fries. Chili's has a classic bacon burger and fries for $8.99. While it does include a drink, one of McDonald's premiere burgers and fries cost around $7, sometimes more if you upsize the meal.
"I think fast food is expensive already," Mr. Russell said.
Minimum wage has been at the core of heated debates in recent years.
President Barack Obama has shown support for $10.10 an hour, a 39 percent increase. Yet food service industry organizations still are at the bargaining table for $15.
Fast food workers' salaries vary drastically from their senior leaders. The hourly wage of the chief executive officer at McDonald's, for example, is $9,247; compared to $7.73 hourly wage of an average worker in the company, according to NerdWallet, a personal finance website.
The average wage at a Starbucks is $8.79 per hour, compared to $9,637 an hour for its CEO. Dollar General's average worker earns $7.67 an hour against a $7,720 hourly wage of its top executive.
Based on those numbers, the playing field seems a bit tilted. But local fast food worker Shawna Powell doesn't think so.
She said it seems inherently wrong that someone makes so much more money than she does, but understands she didn't earn it.
"Yeah, I'm jealous," she said. "But I also didn't go to college. I don't have a master's degree or whatever. We get paid for what we do."
But raising a family on minimum wage is difficult. Ms. Powell does feel she, and her fellow fast food workers, deserve more than minimum wage.
"The cost of living should dictate how much we get paid," she said.
Jennifer Hall can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPHall.