All we wanted was some fast food fried chicken sandwiches. Instead, we got a lesson in economics.

My eldest son, who recently celebrated his last birthday as a pre-teen, wanted something special for his birthday dinner – a chicken sandwich from a nationally known chain. He finally got it, along with insight into the state’s real-life labor shortage.

When we arrived at the fast food franchise for our fried chicken sandwiches, there were more people waiting to order than working behind the counter. The cashier was apparently working her first day, and the supervisor supposed to train her was performing at least three other duties, including managing the drive-thru. It took about 25 minutes to get our food (quick), and it only had most of the things we paid for (my son got his sandwich, at least).

As we waited, at least two people left the line behind us, one saying she was going to a competitor down the street, who offered their own version of the fast food fried chicken sandwich. At least a few cars left the passing lane without ordering.

It’s not a complaint about the food (which was good, if not quite living up to the hype that preceded it), but it’s not an isolated incident either. It’s a scene unfolding across the state as employers face what they’re calling a real labor crisis.

As a non-expert, that certainly seemed like bad business. The lack of staff meant that people who wanted to buy fast food had to go elsewhere. Those who stayed (like us) will probably think twice about going back anytime soon. It would seem to be in the interest of the fast food franchise to resolve this dilemma.

Job postings are at an all-time high, with the state reporting 110,000 in December, among about 10 million openings nationwide. Much of this has been tied to COVID-related disruptions, along with other factors including the state’s high cost of living and an aging workforce. Certainly, the lack of affordable housing to live in Connecticut plays a role.

All of this combines to place workers in an unfamiliar position. If many jobs are readily available, people are less likely to set up shop, such as dealing with impatient customers in a fast food franchise selling fried chicken sandwiches. This leaves employers in a bind.

There is a solution here. It’s called an increase.

That, of course, is Connecticut, where the minimum wage is currently $13 an hour and is expected to rise to $15 by the middle of next year. This is not a state where we pay the federal minimum of $7.25, essentially poverty wages, and then wonder why people aren’t lining up for unattractive jobs.

Still, nothing prevents anyone from going above the minimum. Especially if your fast food business reported $10 billion in revenue last year, the last thing that should happen is a labor shortage. Just give people more money.

It is true that each situation is unique. And we don’t need to put family restaurants and other businesses that may or may not hold their own in the same equation.

Yet too many companies seem to be hoping that the current moment will shift in favor of the typical employer-favoring status quo, where workers will once again scrounge up whatever is available. In the meantime, companies will just live with lost customers and believe that people will still be around to buy their fried chicken sandwiches when the economic situation inevitably changes. They would rather wait than make a real move to raise wages.

It’s easy to argue that this is all too simplistic and that paying people more isn’t a viable option. And it’s true that wages are rising nationally. But even with recent gains, worker compensation across the country remains historically low relative to the size of the economy. Corporate consolidation and the near absence of unionization in service sector jobs are to blame. Whatever our problems, overpaid workers are not one of them.

Is it possible that some of the $1.5 billion the restaurant ownership group returned to shareholders last year was instead paid to workers to get more people to want to serve fried chicken sandwiches in fast food?

The SOE lobby says our problem is that there are too many mandates for employers. The state government is responding to the current situation with tax cuts that are unlikely to change much. Meanwhile, jobs are unfilled and the simplest response, one that aligns with the basic rules of supply and demand, is too often ignored or used as a last resort. Pay people more and the labor shortage disappears.

Hugh Bailey is editorial page editor for the Connecticut Post and the New Haven Register. He can be reached at [email protected]