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Frank Gray

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Life in the drive-thru would quickly dry up if restaurants paid a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

$15 an hour kills lunch

Shops, diners can’t fill plate at that ‘minimum’ rate

A few weeks ago, fast food workers around the country were holding demonstrations, demanding that their pay be raised to $15 an hour.

A handful of people with signs assembled in icy weather in Fort Wayne on a corner near downtown, joining in on the push.

You can’t blame them for wanting a raise. Everybody wants a raise, and there are people, including the president, pushing for a substantial increase in the minimum wage.

I’ve looked at the history of the minimum wage. Over the years it’s jumped up and down. Exceptions have been written into the law, exempting some workers.

Around 1967, the minimum was set at $1 for just about everybody, and almost every year the wage was bumped up about 10 percent.

Those annual jumps are easy to understand in hindsight. There was a lot of inflation in the 1970s and into the 1980s. Remember those “Whip Inflation Now” buttons Gerald Ford was pushing?

So by 1981, the minimum wage had jumped to $3.35.

After that the almost annual increases fell by the wayside. Every six to 10 years some new formulas were introduced, bumping the wage a little at a time over the course of three years, finally settling at $7.25 about 4½ years ago.

Now we’ve got people demanding the wage be doubled.

You can’t blame people for wanting to make more money. Everyone wants a raise. But what will become of lunch?

There was a time when one of the best parts of the day was figuring out where to eat lunch.

In a business where most people don’t eat breakfast and you don’t eat dinner half the time, lunch becomes important, and Fort Wayne, with its proliferation of all-you-can-eat buffets, was the perfect place for someone who eats with the regularity of a snake.

Lunch, though, has sort of fallen by the wayside these days. You can’t eat as cheap as you used to be able to.

Even a fast-food lunch costs more than $6 these days, and if wages rise sharply, you can bet meal costs will soar, too.

So you learn to cope.

I’ve discovered frozen dinners. It turns out that, yes, you can still eat cheap.

For 88 cents you can eat manicotti, though if you nuke it too long it turns to leather.

There are other $1 and $2 dinners. They aren’t great, but I sense that they’re probably better than prison food, so they fill the bill on those couple of days a week when I remember to bring one to work.

Sooner or later the minimum wage will be raised again. One hopes we retain the common sense of the past, when wages were given modest bumps of perhaps 10 percent, and don’t dramatically increase the wage.

We don’t want to price lunch completely out of reach.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.