Finals are done for the semester, and now that some of the fog has cleared off my brain, I notice that this blog has gone, woefully, without new content for entirely too long. Time to fix that…
So, lots in the news lately – lots of things we could and probably should be discussing with one another. We aren’t, but that isn’t because nothing of interest is taking place. Nope, it’s the holiday season, and our minds are generally occupied with other things; generally things more monetary in nature.
So let’s talk about that for a second – money.
(No, not the money you’re likely spending, or wish you were spending on gifts this year. Relax. You have another whole month before you really get the chance to seriously begin enjoying your debt.)
No, I want to talk about the money we, as Americans, are earning, or not earning, as the case often is.
Maybe you have turned on the news at some point in this last year. And maybe, in some of that news watching time, you have seen a story, perhaps two, about low wage workers lobbying for higher wages. More likely you’ve seen some pontificating pundit pining on about how low wage workers should just shut up and enjoy their poverty, if they have any time off from their second or third jobs.
Seen a few of those myself. Again, relax. I’m not about to rant about how shameful and heartless these highly paid opinion makers are when they make these outrageous statements that seem to be so utterly lacking in compassion that the Grinch, high on Mt Krumpet, looks down in bewilderment and shock.
Sorry guys, this isn’t one of those posts.
(but don’t worry, it may still get a bit rant-ish towards the end.)
This post comes into being because, quite often as of late, I keep having a very similar conversation, both online and in person.
(I know, right? In person communication? Who would have thunk it?)
I also keep seeing these disparaging memes and posts on the internet.
Usually, I ‘m all for a good disparaging, provided the one being disparaged is truly deserving, you know, or the disparagement is really funny…
But everything I have been seeing seems to be attacking these workers who are doing nothing more than peacefully attempting to improve their quality of life. And that is a bit of a bridge too far for me, and too much like blaming the victim for me to put up with quietly.
So, here are my thoughts on the subject:
1) Most of the arguments against paying these low wage workers a living wage centers around the perceived worthiness of these jobs. I have heard, (and read), that these lower rungs of the employment ladder aren’t meant to be good jobs, because people aren’t meant to stay in them…
…And to that I ask, “Are you fucking serious?”
I mean, really guys, what kind of crack-pot, cheap-jack, pointless fucking argument is that? All it does is demonstrate an unforgivable amount of ignorance in any thinking human being.
Lest you think my entire counter argument rests with the ad hominem, allow me to elaborate a little…
Firstly, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, no one – to date – has been able to offer a coherent argument that convinces me that a calorie of energy expended doing work is any more or less worthy than any other calorie of energy expended doing any other kind of work. I don’t think an argument can actually be coherently and rationally made that does. And that cuts off the worthiness section of the argument.
Secondly, the statement often presupposes a view of low wage workers as high school or college kids, just trying to earn a few extra dollars for condoms and illicit drugs. (okay, I added that last part, but you were thinking it too.) However, what the research tells us is that the average age of, say, a fast food worker in America is 28. I don’t know about you, but under the normal timelines for such things, most people are both out of high school and college by 28.
(in this, as to college, I am an exception, as are many of my friends)
Let that sink in for a minute: 28 years old. That is, by all measures, a full-grown adult. One imagines they have other financial responsibilities than paying for latex-free rubbers and chipping in for the keg at the weekend party. These are people with bills. Rent. Healthcare costs. Transportation costs. Communication costs.
(I don’t know if you’ve tried operating without your cell phone for a week or two, but it isn’t easy. It can be done, but everything gets harder.)
Maybe they have a kid, and that means more healthcare costs, and childcare costs, and more in rent, food, transportation, clothing, etc…
Starting to get the picture?
Thirdly, as for the ‘lowest rung’ part of the argument. In short, completely bullshit. The lowest rung of the employment ladder isn’t there so one can see how bad it is at the bottom, and then be magically motivated to move up. It just does not fucking work that way. For one, there will never be enough higher-level positions, in any economy, to support the amount of workers looking to move up. And those are just the ones that can move up. Not everyone has the ability or capability.
It may not be a truth that’s popular, but truth doesn’t need to be.
Another thing that makes the ‘lowest rung, move up or you’re lazy’ argument insane is the fact that there will always be those lower end jobs, because there will always be a need for someone to run a register, or cook, or dry clean, or mop floors, or whatever. There will always be a need, and as such, there will always be those jobs. Therefore there will always someone who has to work those jobs. Always.
If those jobs will always be there, and someone will always have to do them, why is it, again, that those someones shouldn’t be paid a living wage for doing them?
That, again, is a question to which no one has yet to come up with a satisfactory, or even rational, answer.
2) The memes I see on the internet that show a soldier, in full battle rattle, with some other disparaging comment about striking fast food workers, or whomever it happens to be this week. Usually the text reads something like, “I don’t even get paid minimum wage, and you want 15 dollars for flipping hamburgers?”
Firstly, that is just some shameful shit to use images of our soldiers in that fashion, much less to attribute to them a point of view they may not have. If you’re one of the people posting this stuff, just stop. For whatever love you bear for humanity, just fucking stop.
Secondly, if your point can not be made without resorting to visceral imagery, that may, or may not even be connected to the issue, then you don’t actually have a point. You’re just trying to pull on people’s emotions to get them to think something that their own logic and reason probably won’t allow them to think.
Thirdly, beyond it being a shameful co-opting of a national symbol, (the American Soldier), it is also woefully inaccurate in its depiction of the facts on the ground. To wit…
Yes, it may be possible that some of the lowest paid soldiers in the military do receive checks that add up to less than the minimum wage, when you consider the amount of hours they work. I don’t know for certain. Feel free to look that up yourself.
What that statement leaves out is the fact that a soldier does not have to pay for clothing, food, housing, or healthcare. And that’s not saying anything about communication costs, or the price of the occasional moment of entertainment.
(Again, if you don’t think entertainment is necessary to human life, please, go a week without any form of it what-so-ever. Feel free. I fucking dare you. No music, no t.v., no internet, no board games, no food that isn’t strictly meant for dietary survival, no cigarettes, alcohol, or any other form of recreational drug. No books or magazines. No theater, poetry, or dance, and damn sure no sex that isn’t strictly motivated by the need to procreate. You have all kinds of fun with that.)
A soldier does not have the everyday, incidental costs of a civilian, that’s why they get paid apparently less per hour.
Okay, I realize I’ve spent the last 1500 words or so debunking other people’s arguments and their general inhumanity to their fellow man. But what, you may be asking, is my positive argument for increased wages?
Glad you asked, because there are a few of them.
Firstly, just a quick reminder about there always being a need for someone to work these jobs, and about no one type of work being intrinsically more worthy than any other.
Secondly, if any person works a full-time job, that person should be able to live on the wages they earn from that job. Period. I don’t care what the job is, our time and effort should be worth a living wage for the simple reason that, if a person were left to their own devices – say there was no economy to speak of – that person would generally expend their energy in ensuring their own survival and the continued survival of their family. They could farm, hunt, fish, and forage for their food, build their own shelters, and make their own damn clothes – as opposed to some 13-year-old in a sweatshop in Indonesia, but that’s a rant for another time.
This is what we would be doing, absent the economy, as it exists now.
As it is now, we give up the opportunity to engage in those subsistence activities and instead direct our efforts towards obtaining means and resources via employment. and that brings up my next point…
Thirdly… we engage in labor that, almost to a person, serves to make someone else money. (money, in the modern instance being our stand in for resources.) We enrich another with our expenditure of energy. Why should we not also gain some measure of enrichment from the expenditure?
Almost every time some politician – usually a Republican, (sorry guys, you went on record) – talks about cutting welfare benefits, or some other aspect of the social safety net, or wants to rail against a raise in the federal minimum wage, you will likely hear this phrase,
“the dignity of work.”
This phrase is said so often, I don’t think people know what it means anymore. And let me tell you, that suits the politicians just fine. Because the phrase, “the dignity of work,” used to mean there was dignity in doing work to support yourself and/or your family. That implies that the work you’re doing pays you enough to do so…
…Nowadays when you hear a politician or pundit trot out that hoary old phrase, they mean it more like, “the dignity of just having a job.”
Certainly, there is some measure of dignity in having a job. But that dignity is greatly eroded when you realize that the job you have and the result of your labors is that someone else lives a better life while you struggle to survive, making decisions like, “do I go to the doctor for this nasty cough, or do I pay to keep the power on?”
Not much dignity in having to make those decisions.
Lastly, and this one is especially for the flag-waving, red-blooded patriot types out there:
Not earning a living wage makes it impossible for a citizen to do their duty and participate in this democracy.
(Some of you will say, “But everybody’s got the right to vote.” And that is mostly true, but it’s also completely a dodge. Don’t worry, I’ll explain…)
Here’s the thing about democracy: it requires free time.
A citizen needs sufficient time to consider policy and candidates, or even become a candidate his/ herself. In this space of time, the citizen should not be too exhausted from work to be able to consider the course of this government.
That means not having to work two, or three, or four jobs.
(You think four jobs is a joke, but I worked four jobs at once when I was 19. There were no full-time jobs that I could get, and I never slept.)
Being able to effectively participate in this democracy means more than just having the option to vote, it means having the time to educate yourself, to consider possible outcomes, to deliberate with other citizens, and to petition the government to hear your concerns.
All of that takes free time.
How much free time do you think a person with two jobs has?
(please, when you’re doing the calculations in your head, allow for enough sleep to avoid illness and hallucinations. Thank you.)
How much free time does a person with three jobs have? Even if they’re part-time jobs?
Now we see a major part of the problem, one you will not hear about on television, (unless by some odd miracle I get interviewed on a major broadcast, and if that happens, go buy lottery tickets immediately).
The problem is when you’re poor in this country, you have the right to participate, but often, you don’t have the ability.
I don’t know about you, but having the right to do something, but not the ability to do it, seems pretty mind-bendingly, tearing-at-your-hair-in-frustration, utter-fucking-ly useless.
Now, just for a giggle, I’d like to see someone try to justify that. Please. Try to justify depriving a whole demographic of the populace of their ability to effectively participate in their own government. In a democracy.
Just do me a favor, if you can manage to do it with a straight face, stop calling yourself a patriot.
You aren’t one.
So, those are some of my thoughts on that. If you made it this far, congratulations, and thank you.
See you soon…