School Lunch Programs Threatened by California’s Fast Food Minimum Wage Hike

Craig Bannister | April 8, 2024
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California’s new $20 an hour minimum wage law isn’t just forcing businesses to raise prices, lay off employees, and even close – it’s also threatening the state’s school lunch programs.

The law targeting fast food restaurants, which went into effect on April 1, raises the fast food minimum hourly wage from to $20 - $4 higher than the state’s $16 minimum for other employees. In response, chains like Burger King and In-N-Out Burger have been forced to raise prices. Others, like Mod Pizza and Fosters Freeze have simply closed stores following the increase in operating costs.

But, one unanticipated consequence of the mandated wage hike is the negative impact it will have on California’s school food services.

School districts, which are already dealing with tight budgets and food service staff shortages, will have to compete for employees with fast food chains paying a minimum of $20 an hour.

At the same time, the workload is skyrocketing at California’s public school food programs, local station KSBY reports:

“Yet, demand for school meals is higher than ever in California, the first state to guarantee free meals for all students regardless of their family's income. And demand is projected to fuel an increase of more than 70 million extra meals in California schools this year compared to 2018, according to the state Department of Education.”


“But these jobs typically have lots of turnover and are harder to fill. The minimum wage boost for fast food workers could make that even more difficult.”

“They are all very worried about it. Most are saying they anticipate it will be harder and harder to hire employees,” warns California School Nutrition Association President Carrie Bogdanovich.