Would self serve gas pumps in New Jersey kill jobs?


If you have not spent much time in New Jersey, it might surprise you to find out that it is currently illegal for someone to pump their own gas. But that may change if a bill that has been introduced overturns that ban, which would leave Oregon as the last state in the country that requires an attendant to pump gas.

I thought that the potential change would be welcome, but based on the comments I’ve been seeing, many people demonstrate strong aversion to the change. People are worried about getting gasoline all over their hands (don’t squeeze the handle when the nozzle isn’t inserted into your car), safety issues (they make it so that you would have to cause a major spill or explosion to happen on purpose), that it will take longer to fill their tanks up (no idea why they think that), and even that they don’t want to have get out of their cars during unpleasant weather (boohoo).

The biggest reason why people don’t want the law to change is because they believe that it will take away jobs. If the law suddenly required drivers to pump their own gas, then yes, a large number of people would suddenly find themselves unemployed. But that is not what the law is doing. The law actually requires all New Jersey gas stations to offer full service pumping for three after the law is passed. So assuming that this meant the end of fuel attendants in New Jersey, it would be a gradual change driven by market demand.

That is the key here: the consumers will decide if they want to keep the attendants employed. If people pull into gas stations and drive up to the full service pumps instead of the self serve pumps, gas station owners will make sure that they have enough attendants available to satisfy that demand. If not, then I’m sure that New Jersey will eventually end up like most other states where nearly all of the pumps are self serve.

This is mostly because a gas station can charge less for self serve gas than it can for full service gas because they don’t have to pay for the extra employees to pump gas. Unless the perceived benefit of having someone else pump your gas is worth the extra cost, people will choose the cheaper product. But that extra money that isn’t spent on gasoline does not just disappear. People will use those savings to save or spend their money on other things.

In other words, allowing the aggregate actions of the market to decide how resources are directed is much more efficient than having government decide. This will allow the economy to grow more naturally and strongly, making it better for everyone. Just think about how many jobs that computers have eliminated. Is the economy better or worse as a result? Imagine a law that said that grocery stores were required to have an employee push the shopping cart for all of their patrons. While it may benefit the person with the cart-pushing job (in the short term), it benefits neither the consumer nor the grocery store. People would either purchase fewer items at the grocery store or would have to eliminate other purchases (or save less).

No one is telling anyone in New Jersey that they can’t have their gas pumped for them. Gas stations should have the option on how they want to serve their customers. It’s better that way for everyone.

If they do pass the law, maybe next they can start letting people make left turns in New Jersey.