Sticker Shock: Big Macs, Taco Prices Rise in Response to $20/hr California Minimum Wage | Truflation
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Sticker Shock: Big Macs, Taco Prices Rise in Response to $20/hr California Minimum Wage

Published 06 Feb, 2024

"Everyone is going to have to pay more," Chipotle's Jack Hartung told the Wall Street Journal.

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski added, "Certainly, there’s going to be some element of that that does need to be worked through with higher pricing. There’s also going to be things that I know the franchisees and our teams there are going to be looking at around productivity. How all of that plays out, there will certainly be a hit in the short term to franchisee cash flow in California; tough to know exactly what that hit will be because of some of the mitigation efforts."

They're anticipating the 1 April 2024 mandate from California to raise fast food workers' minimum wage to $20 an hour (all restaurants with at least 60 locations nationwide). California already has the nation's highest minimum wage ($16/hr).

Chipotle and McDonalds announced increased prices before the wage raise date; other outlets are investing in automated kiosks and devices to help reduce the number of employees.

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Some stores outright closed.

Over 1,200 Pizza Hut drivers have been let go, with drivers to be replaced by services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats in the coming months. Many other chains are currently also looking into doing the same for deliveries.

Great Debate

In the landscape of labor policies, the minimum wage has a contentious history marked by struggles, debates, and unintended consequences. As we delve into the annals of time, the origins of the minimum wage can be traced back to the early 20th century when policymakers sought to address labor exploitation and promote economic fairness. However, this seemingly noble initiative has faced numerous challenges and criticisms throughout its evolution.

The birth of the minimum wage in the United States can be attributed to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, a landmark piece of legislation that sought to establish a baseline for fair labor practices during the Great Depression. Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the FLSA set the initial minimum wage at 25 cents per hour, aiming to lift workers out of poverty and ensure a decent standard of living.

Renewed Focus

While the intentions behind the minimum wage were noble, the early years were marked by a lack of adjustment to account for inflation and changing economic conditions. This oversight resulted in a diminishing real value of the minimum wage over time, leading to periods where workers struggled to make ends meet despite the existence of a legal minimum.

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a renewed focus on the minimum wage, with policymakers attempting to rectify its shortcomings. Yet, this era also exposed the unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies. Some critics argue that raising the minimum wage during this period contributed to job losses, particularly among low-skilled workers and minority populations. The backlash from businesses facing increased labor costs underscored the challenges of finding a delicate balance between worker protection and economic viability.

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Throughout the following decades, the minimum wage became a political battleground, with debates revolving around the appropriate level of government intervention in the labor market. Supporters emphasized the moral imperative of providing a living wage, while opponents raised concerns about the potential negative impacts on businesses, particularly small enterprises operating on thin profit margins.


The concept of a one-size-fits-all federal minimum wage also faced scrutiny as regional economic variations became more apparent. What might be a livable wage in a high-cost urban area could be excessive in a rural community with a lower cost of living. This led to calls for a more nuanced approach, with some arguing for region-specific minimum wage policies that account for the diverse economic landscapes across the country.

The early 21st century brought about renewed discussions on the minimum wage, with the "Fight for $15" movement gaining momentum. Advocates argued that the federal minimum wage had failed to keep pace with the rising cost of living, leaving millions of working Americans struggling to meet their basic needs. This movement, coupled with grassroots efforts and political pressure, led to incremental increases in the minimum wage in various states and municipalities.

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However, the recent push for a $15 federal minimum wage (from current $7.25) has reignited debates about its potential consequences. Critics argue that such a significant increase could lead to job losses, particularly in industries that heavily rely on low-wage workers. The restaurant and retail sectors, in particular, have expressed concerns about the financial strain imposed by a sudden and substantial wage hike.

Moreover, the ongoing debate underscores the broader challenges of crafting effective labor policies that balance the needs of workers and businesses. The minimum wage, once envisioned as a straightforward solution to economic inequality, continues to face complexities and trade-offs that policymakers must carefully navigate.

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