Post #566: The Wegman’s wage in the time of COVID-19

Posted on March 23, 2020

Source:  Analysis of data from Johns Hopkins, to the 5 PM update of their interactive coronoavirus map. 

Up a couple of bucks, based on the rumor I’ve just heard.  And I get this from somebody who is close to a Wegman’s hourly employee.

And this makes sense to me.  Purely as a dollars-and-cents piece of business arithmetic. For two weirdly unrelated reasons.

Restaurant meals as a fraction of total dietary calories.

First, who knew?  This recent turn of events is almost undoubtedly good for grocery stores.

It turns out that calories via restaurant meals accounted for a large fraction of total calories consumed, in wealthy urban areas.  I’m now looking at estimates of something like 50%.  In wealthy areas, 50% of … something … meals or dinners … were professionally prepared, as opposed to home-cooked.

Make restaurant dining inconvenient, and suddenly there’s a big pickup in edible calories purchase in the grocery store.

From The Guardian, emphasis mine:

"Annelies Goger, a fellow with the Brookings Institution specializing in workforce and safety net programs, said that a widespread shift to work-from-home mandates played a role. Because people were working outside the home, they dined at more restaurants. Some companies provided meals to their employees. More than 50% of food expenditures were consumed away from home, Goger noted.

“Now, all those people are working from home and most of them are making food, and buying it at a grocery store, instead of going out,” Goger said. “Overnight, the channels whereby people are getting food are just completely changing.”

This shift is thought to be a contributor to skimpy stocking in grocery stores.  As a simple matter or arithmetic, grocery stores now have to pick up the slack as individuals decide to cook at home rather than eat in restaurants or eat take out.

Makes me far less ashamed of my shabby kitchen.  Our kitchen looks like hell, frankly, compared to the Vienna norm.  There is evidence of wear everywhere.  Worn paint, worn tile, mis-matched appliances.  Crap crusted on the burners, most days, despite my best efforts.  (Hint:  Ammonia, plastic wrap, and time, and all that stuff comes off.)

And … maybe that’s because we use it.  Turns out, maybe all these pristine showplace kitchens you see look that way because they were not the source of most of the food calories of the associated families.

I kind-of knew that “everybody” in the wealthy ‘burbs ate out/had carry-out for dinner.  I did not grasp just how widespread this practice was.  And disrupting that perturbs the food supply chain.

Anyways, seems like grocery stores have the upper hand for a bit of time.  And it would not be surprising if they could afford to pay a bit better.

Hazardous duty pay.

I am not trying to diss the US military with my use of this phrase.  Fact is, anybody with a public-facing job now faces risk of contracting coronavirus.

So, again, it would not surprise me to see that the pay grade for that type of duty has gone up.  Gotta keep those positions filled.

And given that for a significant fraction of the grocery industry workforce, the work would not be characterized as lucrative.  Pays a decent wage, in most cases, that’s about the most you can say for it.  Fair pay for a decent job.  And when the job is suddenly gets a lot more risky, it’s not clear that the workers are going to remain loyal without making trying to make it worth their while to incur that additional risk.

So, again, coughing up another couple of bucks, to keep the best employees on the job — makes perfect business sense.  Should have happened a long time ago, IMHSO (in my humble socialist opinion).  But my opinion is likely shaped by a youth spent in low-wage jobs just like that.

Power to the people.  Right on.

Cleansing depression

At some point, I need to write something about the economic consequences of the virus.  Locally, where my words might matter to some small degree.  But that has to be in the context of what’s going to happen nationally, where I am irrelevant.

I have been daunted by that.  Mostly because the bulk of the formal predictions of impact on US GDP seem like … nonsense to me.

So in the short run, I’ll just reference an idea from the Austrian School of political economy:  The Cleansing Depression.

Sometimes, people just have to have the crap kicked out of them, economically speaking, in order to make much-needed changes.

And so, just listen to the talk of this virus as “Boomer remover”, and realize … yeah, there’s some serious inter-generational discontent out there.

Couple of bucks up on the Wegman’s wage?  Cheap at half the price, I’d say.  And it seems like a good start to me.