June 05, 2016
Minimum Wage And Car Wash Automation

An article in Reason on the effects that a $15 per hour minimum wage will have on car wash employment is a mini history of car wash automation. What is most surprising about it: the level of car wash automation has not steadily increased. When cheap illegal immigrant labor flooded into certain regions (notably New York City) the level of automation actually went down. This happened for multiple reasons including the ability to locate a non-automated car wash on a smaller piece of property.

A higher minimum wage (coming to California, New York State, and perhaps some other states) will bring back much higher levels of car wash automation in Los Angeles and New York City. It will also incentivize the development of automated means to clean inside the car.

As minimum wage rises in some pretty big jurisdictions we are going to get a clearer idea of what sorts of jobs are easiest to automate out of existence. Will the percentage drops in employment be higher in restaurants, hotels, car washes, grocery stores, vegetable farms, or fast oil change shops? Anyone have insights on sectors of the economy that would be easy to automate in response to a doubling of hourly rates for low skilled jobs?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2016 June 05 11:00 AM 

JerseyGuy said at June 7, 2016 6:59 PM:

Yes Randall yes! I've totally noticed this in NJ. I'm in my early 30s and the technology in my local car washes has changed very little since I started driving. It's actually shocking how much low wage labor is still used due to our stupid immigration policies. Do you know of any technology currently being developed to further automate this?

Randall Parker said at June 11, 2016 10:20 AM:


Necessity is the mother of invention. Ben Franklin is still right. We will see the next wave of car wash automation in California and New York as minimum wage goes up in a series of steps to $15 per hour. We will see waves of automation roll across farm land too. Fully autonomous tractors (they already have auto-navigation) will take farmers out of the fields. Advanced optical systems that can identify fruits and vegetables ripe for picking and maneuver picking arms will remove poor day laborers from California row crop fields.

Restaurants already can roll out order pads and kiosks. We'll see advances in automatic dishwashers and robots to deliver food to tables. Robots will put burgers on the grill and onto the hamburger bun.

20 years from now farms, restaurants, and car washes will employ a tenth the number of workers they employ today.

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