We all know about the skills shortage where Harvard has to pay investment managers millions to lose the school a fortune on its endowment, Facebook can't find a CEO who can avoid compromising its customers' privacy, and restaurant managers apparently don't understand that the way to get more workers is to offer higher pay. The NYT gives us yet another article complaining about labor shortages.
The complaint is that restaurants have small profit margins and therefore can't afford to offer higher pay to their workers. The way markets are supposed to work is that businesses that can't afford to pay the market wage go out of business. This is why we don't still have half of our workforce employed in agriculture. Factories and other urban businesses offered workers better paying opportunities. Most farms could not afford to match the pay and therefore folded often with the farm owner themselves moving to new employment.
This is the story that we should expect to see with restaurants if there really is a labor shortage. We should start to see more rapidly rising wages. The restaurants that can't pay the market wage go under. That may not be pretty, but that's capitalism. We tell that to unemployed and low paid workers all the time.
For the record, we aren't seeing too much by way of rapidly rising wages to date. Over the last year, the pay of production and non-supervisory workers rose 3.2 percent. That's a bit better than the average of all workers of 2.7 percent, but not the sort of increase that we would expect if there is a serious shortage of labor. It is also worth mentioning that profit margins in business as a whole are near post-war highs as a result of the weak labor market created by the Great Recession, so we should expect some shift back to labor as the labor market tightens.