- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

Wages and dining out

National Restaurant Association President Steven Anderson’s letter to the editor served up accusations that my research findings on stagnant or falling wages in illegal immigrant-heavy industries — which undercut these sectors’ claims of dire labor shortages — reflect “convenient” numbers that distort reality.Mr. Anderson’s arguments, however, should be sent right back to the kitchen — along with the open-borders, poverty-importing immigration policies his organization is pushing (“Wages and Immigration, May 11) .

Mr. Anderson starts by dismissing as atypical the 2000-2005 period I examined because of the economy’s brief 2001 recession and post- September 11 troubles, which he notes hit the travel and tourism sectors especially hard. Yet recent macroeconomic trends have had little consistent effect on restaurant wages. One reason is the peculiar nature of the 2001 recession — which Mr. Anderson has forgotten was led by a crash in business spending on machinery and equipment. Personal consumption on goods and services, like dining out, actually rose. In fact, during those nine months of contraction in the inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (January through September), Census Bureau data shows that nominal (non-inflation-adjusted) monthly sales for “eating and drinking places” increased three times faster than nominal gross domestic product (4.50 percent versus 1.43 percent). That is no doubt partly why inflation-adjusted wages in the broad Food Service and Drinking Places category tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics actually rose a nickel (0.9 percent) between 2000 and 2002.

By contrast, during the first nine months of 2003 and 2004, nominal monthly restaurant sales growth stayed strong (between 4.16 percent and 5.82 percent), before tailing off to 1.45 percent between January and September, 2005. Yet inflation-adjusted wages in the sector fell a total of 2.37 percent for all of 2003-2005. Similar trends characterize every major subsector within the BLS’ broad Food Service category, save for Full-Service Restaurants (where 2005 real wages remained above their 2000 levels despite a post-2003 dip), Food Service Contractors and Drinking Places (where real wages fell in a straight line following 2000), and the small catering sector (where real wages rose impressively from 2000 to 20005).

Leaving aside Mr. Anderson’s suggestion that the nation’s restaurateurs more than made up the difference, the only explanation for these declining real wages that dovetails with contemporary economics is that restaurants as a whole were not scrambling for workers (which would have forced them to bid wages up). Rather, they were flooded with workers (allowing them to drive wages down). Surely one major reason has been the continuing influx of illegal immigrants — which the restaurateurs keep lobbying to increase and legalize.

Is the picture better over a longer period of time, as Mr. Anderson suggests? Not even close. Between 1990 (when Bureau of Labor Statistics data for specific restaurant categories begins) and 2005, real wages in the private sector as a whole rose a meager 6.66 percent. But the increase in the broad Food Services Category was only 4.08 percent. The only exceptions were full service restaurants (6.63 percent) and caterers (18.1 percent). All the other subsectors trailed far behind.

One final irony — if Mr. Anderson was right about the early part of this decade, and restaurant owners had suffered heavy losses, labor shortage claims then would have been even less credible. For the nation’s eating places, owners would have needed fewer, not more workers. Thus his letter, too, portrays the industry as so badly managed and so unproductive that ever cheaper labor is its only hope of viability.

ALAN TONELSON

Research Fellow

U.S. Business and Industry Council

Educational Foundation

Washington

First, listen to suburbanites

We are writing to respond to a recent Op-Ed by Mark Kirk, “A suburban agenda” (Wednesday). While we appreciate the efforts of the Republican suburban caucus in Washington, we as suburban Illinois legislators believe strongly that a one-size-fits-all, or one-suburb-fits-all, approach to dealing with local issues has severe shortcomings.

The Washington-driven suburban agenda does not reflect the real needs and concerns of local residents. Here in Illinois, many of these so-called “national” agenda items are already being addressed locally. Additionally, the national agenda disregards the recent history of broken promises and unfunded mandates from Washington.

In summary, the National Suburban Agenda has the following effect:

1. It takes existing local and state programs and “nationalizes” them, adding a duplicate layer of bureaucracy with unfunded mandates.

2. It misleads voters into believing that our communities and states are not addressing key issues of concern.

3. It ignores a host of federal programs, such as Special Education, No Child Left Behind, and create others that have been underfunded, leaving suburban schools and communities empty-handed.

We are ready to work closely with Washington on important programs, but we cannot endorse more bureaucracy and duplication of programs already in place. We cannot define our local agenda based on polling in suburban Cleveland or Philadelphia. We cannot allow our congressional representatives to determine what our needs are based on orders that have come down from Karl Rove. We invite our congressman to host town hall meetings to hear first-hand from constituents what is on their minds.

SEN. SUSAN GARRETT

REP. ELAINE NEKRITZ

State of Illinois

Highwood

A great migration proposal

Congratulations to Tony Blankley, for one of the best pieces I have read in a really long time (“A Modest Proposal,” Op-Ed, Wednesday). A perfect mix of dry humor, and an immigrant’s perspective on the current invasion from the south, brings home the gravity of our current situation. If I could, I would like to add to his list of positive aspects of a shift to our north.

We already know about the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada, and given that Alaska’s North Slope has yielded so much oil, a 1,000 mile extension to those oil-rich reaches should be enough to bring all the Texans and Neocons on board. We already have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so SAD liberals and their therapists can move north, given the long summer days and winter nights, confident in the knowledge that there is a malady waiting for them, (as well as a political party that unabashedly calls itself the Liberal Party).

But perhaps most importantly, we could take with us our sports, show them how football is supposed to be played, and reimport over-paid hockey players. The possibilities are endless.

PETER LOCKE

Ashburn, Va.

Open up the OCS

I applaud Rep. John Peterson for endorsing natural gas exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) (“Oil-addiction breaker,” Commentary, Friday). In the midst of an energy crisis, our nation must develop energy supplies in environmentally responsible ways right here in America. This cannot be done by denying access to much of the country’s offshore oil and gas resources.

The nation’s most abundant natural gas supplies are located under non-park, non-wilderness federal lands, most notably in the OCS and have been virtually locked up and remain off-limits because of outdated government restrictions, moratoria and frivolous lawsuits by activist groups.

Restrictions, bans and bureaucratic delays are weakening our nation’s industrial base, negatively impacting our economy in the form of higher prices and causing the loss of millions of domestic manufacturing jobs.

America’s energy and economic problems should provide enough motivation for Congress and the president to form a consensus on a clear-cut, inclusive and long-term solution. Ignoring great resources, such as the OCS, will do nothing but prolong America’s energy hangover.

MICHAEL LINN

Chairman

Independent Petroleum Association of America

Washington


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