Friday, September 19, 2014

Minimum wage wars...

A Facebook friend posted this to my wall and invited me to comment... so I will...

It's been a long time since I had a minimum wage job.  Hell, it's been a long time since I've had any real job.  So maybe, when it comes to the controversy surrounding wages, I don't have any right to speak my mind.  After all, I am not struggling to pay my bills with a minimum wage job, nor am I paying anyone to do a minimum wage job. 

For the record, I do think it's a bit much for fast food employees to be asking $15 an hour to flip burgers.  That's a lot of money.  In fact, it's 50% more per hour than what I earned as a graduate assistant at the University of South Carolina (although the 80% tuition break totally made up for the lack of pay and benefits).  On the other hand, a lot of people who have minimum wage jobs at places like McDonald's and Burger King are well past their teen years.  Some of them have those jobs because they can't find anything else.  Minimum wage is not a "living wage", but there are people out there who are trying to support their families at those positions.  

Just a couple of months ago, I blogged about a woman who got in trouble with the law because she sent her nine year old daughter to play in a nearby park while she worked at McDonald's.  It's my guess that this mom wasn't working at Mickey D's because she necessarily wanted to; she was working there because there weren't any more appealing or better paying jobs available to her.  She couldn't pay for childcare for her daughter, so she sent her to the park to play... something that would have been totally okay for our own moms to do when we were kids.  She got in a lot of trouble for doing that and very nearly lost her minimum wage job that requires "minimum skills".  And yet, the people who run fast food corporations are extremely well paid.  They are among the best paid executives in the United States.    

In May 2013, I met a couple on a SeaDream cruise.  SeaDream Yacht Club, if you don't know, is a luxury cruise line.  It costs a lot of money to sail with SeaDream.  We've managed to do it three times on Bill's Army salary, but it required saving and planning.  While we were on our last cruise, I met a Wendy's executive, whose job it was to spread the brand internationally.  Granted, that's not a low skilled job, but it obviously paid very well, since he was joining us on that cruise.  While I didn't ask him, I doubt he worked his way up to that position from manning the drive thru window.  

I'm not saying the man we met needed to be making a whole lot less money than he does, but I do think that fast food executives should pay a bit more to people who do an honest day's work actually selling the products that made them famous.  It can only help our society by giving people with less earning power more economic security and the ability to develop "non minimum wage skills".  And it can help parents who work at places like McDonald's or Wendy's find appropriate child care so their kids don't end up being taken by CPS and they don't end up with a police record and all the expenses caused by involvement with the legal system.  A police record and legal issues don't make it easier for the down and out to rise up and move forward.  

Add in the fact that some fast food outlets are paying in debit cards that charge fees.  If you're making minimum wage and it costs $1.75 to $2.25 simply to access the money you earned, that can translate to making less than minimum wage.   Last year, McDonald's embarrassed itself by showing how out of touch they are with what living actually costs for their lowest level employees.  I think it's time they did raise the pay scale a bit.  And while they're at it, they can invest in better food, too...  stuff that doesn't stay preserved for years on end.  Perhaps that would help make health care costs lower for the population as a whole, thus freeing up more cash to pay the low level workers so they can stay off welfare.   

Now, as for the military, which is also referenced in the above photo, I want to make it plain that there are no "kids" serving in a military uniform.  Anyone who wears a military uniform is an adult who, you'd better hope, is capable of making grown up decisions.  Therefore, it really bugs me when I read someone referring to people in the military as "kids".  It belittles them.  Think about it.  Children are generally thought of as innocents who need protection.  While there may be some folks in the military who are immature, and some who are even flat out stupid, by and large, our nation is blessed with a great military staffed with people who chose to do the job.  And the job they do is sometimes very dangerous.  I doubt they'd want to be called "kids" when what they do for a living can turn out to be as real as it gets.  

Secondly, while the military doesn't pay its lower ranks well at all, there are opportunities for advancement and benefits available to those who seek them and that can translate to a better paycheck, too.  My husband, who grew up in a household with little money, joined JROTC in high school and managed to get scholarships for college.  He ended up graduating from a very prestigious and expensive private university in Washington, DC.  Then, he embarked on a successful career as an Army officer, during which he earned a master's degree.  He is now retired and earning a second master's degree, courtesy of the Army.  These benefits weren't handed to him on a silver platter.  He took advantage of them because they were offered through the Army and he was willing to work for them.  

Not everyone can wear a military uniform.  I probably couldn't have, even if I'd had the appropriate physique.  I don't have the right temperament for the military.  But I recognize that there are a lot of benefits to being in the military, especially for those who come from a place where good jobs are in short supply.  The military gets a bad rap for the number of poor people who serve and later end up in harm's way.  It also gets a bad rap for not honoring promises made to those who sign up.  However, as employers go, the military can be a good gig, if you play your cards right and if you're lucky.  The military can help disadvantaged people become middle class.  

I think, across the board, people should be less selfish.  Employers should be willing to pay more for work performed.  I don't think everyone who works at McDonald's is "unskilled", and I think it's very ignorant to assume that they are and arrogantly and offensively treat them as if they are.  Moreover, I don't think it serves society for fast food workers to be paid slave wages.  Some fast food jobs can be great training environments that translate to excellent work skills.  Off the top of my head, I can think of two people with whom I went to high school who worked in fast food restaurants and are now doing fine work in their careers.  They no doubt got a good foundation working in fast food restaurants.  

Those who start working at a fast food restaurant and are considered unskilled don't have to leave the job unskilled.  It's a mistake to assume that anyone who works in fast food and earns minimum wage is automatically someone with minimum skills.  In fact, I don't believe any job is truly unskilled.  Every task requires some level of competency.  Unfortunately, our economy has dwindled to the point at which high school kids are being edged out by older people who have bills to pay.  There are a lot of parents working in fast food restaurants who are just trying to get by in any way they can.  

We talk a lot about being concerned about children, but it really rings hollow when a woman working at McDonald's can't afford child care for her daughter and ends up in jail for letting her kid play in the park.  Our country needs more jobs that pay decently and allow people to take care of themselves and their families.  As long as we have overpaid CEOs making money hand over fist on the backs of low paid "unskilled" flunkies, that can never happen.  While many people can rise above being fast food flunkies, some people working at McDonald's, being paid with debit cards that they have to pay to access, will never rise above their "unskilled" status and it's possible that their children won't, either.  And when those kids grow up and expect better conditions, some people will still be berating them for not being able to get ahead.  And then the cycle will continue apace.        

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