Boston-Area Fast Food Chain Pays Average Boston-Area Wages, Brags About It

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 30 2013 10:58 AM

Boston-Area Fast Food Chain Pays Average Boston-Area Wages, Brags About It

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BOSTON - JUNE 11: Boston is a great city for boats and high-wage burrito manufacturing.

Photo by PA3 Kelly Newlin/U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

Bryce Covert sings the praises of the (relatively) high-wage labor market strategy of Bolocoo, a Boston-based burrito chain which "pays its entry-level workers anywhere from $9 to $11 an hour, most of them making $10."

That is excellent for them. But if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' page on fast food cooks it turns out that in Massachusetts (where most Bolocoo restaurants are located) the average wage for a fast food cook is $10.16 an hour. Of Bolocco's six non-Massachusetts locations, one is in Vermont—one of the only states where the average wages for fast food cooks are higher than the average wages in Massachusetts.

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Which is just to say that Bolocoo is basically doing what every other company is doing—it's paying market wages. It happens to be a chain whose home base is an unusually affluent, unusually high-wage state with an unusually high level of educational attainment. Of course Bolocco could offer below-average wages and try to get by with sub-standard personnel for a Bay State fast food operation. But since Bolocco's market niche is intended to be somewhat upscale that would be a poor alignment with the nature of the food that they serve.

There's absolutely a success story here, but I'd say it's primarily a success story about Massachusetts or New England more broadly. If you have a prosperous region and a well-educated population, then magically even low-status jobs start paying more. Unfortunately, those Bolocoo workers will probably find that the wage premium they earn relative to fast food cooks in Tulsa are clawed back by Greater Boston's expensive housing. Ultimately to get higher wages we need to build more housing in the high wage regions, with Bolocco's home base high on the list.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.