Critics of restaurant jobs, including those calling for a higher minimum wage are off base, says Phil Hickey chairman of the National Restaurant Association.
"The first job held by nearly one in three Americans is in the restaurant industry," Hickey, who says his first job was washing dishes in a Big Boy, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece
"In addition to teaching personal responsibility, teamwork, discipline, and accountability, these positions provide workers with opportunities for successful careers. Many of them . . . advance from their entry-level, minimum-wage positions."
But then there are the naysayers. "Unfortunately, critics of these jobs have been portraying the industry as ruthless and exploitative," Hickey says. "They argue that jobs in restaurants are a dead end."
Hickey's comments came on the day fast food workers throughout the country went on strike
. Protesters are calling for fast-food workers to receive $15 an hour, instead of the $7.25 minimum wage.
"The picture painted by unions and their allies is highly inaccurate," Hickey, chairman of the Orlando-based Miller's Ale House chain argues. "The majority of workers who earn a minimum wage in the United States work outside of the restaurant industry. In reality, only 5 percent of the 10 million restaurant employees earn the minimum wage."
Restaurant workers who do earn minimum wage are mostly teenagers in part-time jobs, Hickey writes. A total of 71 percent of the restaurant industry's minimum-wage employees are less than 25 years old, and 47 percent are teenagers, he says.
"Washington politicians, labor unions and the media often portray service jobs as inferior or less valuable to society than other kinds of employment," Hickey states.
"Instead of degrading this type of hard work, critics might consider the pride that many restaurant workers take in their jobs and the skills they learn."
The restaurant sector is playing a key role in the economic recovery, Hickey says. "While employment nationwide grew by 1.7 percent in 2012, restaurant industry employment grew 3.4 percent — making 2012 the 13th consecutive year that the restaurant industry has outperformed overall U.S. employment growth."
A total of 57 percent of restaurant worker are students with changing schedules. Part-time, entry-level work is important for a wide group of Americans, Hickey says.
"The truth is that both part-time and full-time positions make the restaurant industry a versatile career option for a variety of workers," he writes. "From underemployed or hard-to-employ workers to college graduates, the industry provides a pathway to the middle class and often beyond."
Ideas like lifting the minimum wage hurt workers by making it more difficult for businesses to create jobs, Hickey maintains. "Let's focus on preparing workers for high-growth positions and helping businesses expand — not on implementing policies that would eliminate jobs and shutter local businesses."
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