I already sketched out what I think will happen to wages of retail alcohol employees if responsible adults are allowed to buy booze in grocery stores, but just to reiterate the point, the issue here is wages, not jobs.
If we print up some more licenses for liquor stores than what currently exists, we’re definitely going to get more liquor stores. Grocery stores will unfortunately still need R licenses (which are really supposed to be just for restaurants and bars), so most of these new licenses are going to brand new businesses. Those businesses are going to need to hire some people, so there are going to be more total retail alcohol jobs than before.
Let’s repeat that: the total number of retail alcohol jobs is going to grow, not decline.
As Albert Brooks says, in all the recent examples where states legalized private alcohol retailers, the number of jobs did not shrink:
In my post Privatization Works earlier this month I mentioned that I didn’t have any employment figures for Alberta. Thanks to the good folks at the Commonwealth Foundation we do now. They report that employment went from 1,300 when the government ran things to 4,000 after privatization.
Alberta only has 3.75 million residents, Pennsylvania has 12.75 million. – you do the math. The union myth that jobs will decrease because of privatization is not true. It wasn’t true in West Virginia, it isn’t true in Alberta and it certainly isn’t true in Washington.
So jobs are not the issue. If the people who currently work in the state cartel stores have a good working knowledge of wine and liquor, they won’t have a problem getting hired at one of the many new wine or liquor stores that will be created when we print more licenses.
The issue continues to be wages. The alcohol cartel and the Democrats mistakenly defending it believe that wages and benefits for retail employees at privately-owned liquor stores will be less generous than the prevailing wage for employees of cartel stores. To a lesser extent, they are worried that some beer distributors will close and lay off some of their retail employees, because people will like buying their booze of choice in supermarkets too much.
You can basically disregard all the other talking points the monopoly defenders use to make their case seem more profound than this, because wages are really the animating concern. They think that reduced consumer choice, reduced restaurant and bar business formation, and underinvestment in older core city downtowns is not too high an economic price for the rest of us to pay in order to preserve monopoly rents for a very tiny random fraction of PA’s retail workforce.
My view is that if you believe Pennsylvania’s service sector employees are entitled to a higher minimum wage than what retail store owners want to pay, then we ought to raise the minimum wage to what we think is appropriate. I personally don’t believe that a $12-13 minimum wage would have serious disemployment effects in PA. A $9 minimum wage seems to be about as high as PA Democrats are willing to go at the moment.
That seems a bit timid to me, but the point is that what goes for retail alcohol employees should go for everyone, and vice versa. If you want to raise retail wages, then your problem is wages, not liquor privatization. Spending public money to inflate wages for one tiny section of the retail workforce seems like an exceptionally poor use of our economic development dollars, and an equally poor strategy for helping the vast majority of our retail workers. Unless the objective is nationalizing the entire retail labor force of Pennsylvania, this does not seem like a wages strategy that can be scaled up.