Myths of Low Wage Work.

I am so on board with all people having a living wage, along with other fair and consistent working conditions like regular hours/scheduling, paid sick leave, parental leave, etc. If I’m really wishing for things, it would be the destruction of capitalism but in the mean time, I think that it’s incredibly important for a minimum wage increase to happen and to unlearn some of the myths that work against low wage and entry level workers.

There have been numerous cities all over that have been fighting for (and some have won) $15 an hour minimum wage, although full implementation will take some time. And while there have been some wins and major political support, the Fight for $15 movement has been met with some resistance. A part of that are the myths that still exist around low wage and entry level jobs.

Myth #1 – Higher wages means job loss and higher prices

Some claim that the increase in wages will create job loss because employers might not be able to keep up with the increase in cost. So far though, one study found that an increase in wages hasn’t hurt the restaurant industry and the prices of different items might increase but not dramatically.

Myth #2 – Fast food and low wage workers don’t deserve higher wages because it’s easy work and just flipping burgers.

Another complaint that has been happening around low wage work and the fight for $15 is that many believe that low wage workers don’t deserve $15 an hour, that people who work in the fast food industry and the like don’t need an increased wage. But the thing about working at typically low wage jobs (like fast food places, retail, etc) is that it is a real job and a lot more work than you think.

There’s so much walking, you’re probably on your feet most of your shift, dealing with rude ass customers all day. There’s time management, juggling multiple tasks at once, handling stress well – and this is all done with a smile on your face to serve the customer. Albert B. Kelly, the mayor for Bridgeton, NJ, worked at McDonald’s for a day and found that it wasn’t the easy job people say it is:

I say that because in today’s day and age, whenever someone wants to stereotype a low-skill job, they talk about “flipping burgers” at McDonald’s. But I think that’s wrong, because there’s nothing easy about it.

I’m not claiming it’s rocket science, but in the heat of a lunch rush where success is measured in seconds, you have to be sharp to work the equipment, stay on top of orders, build meals to specifications, and get it all done the McDonald’s way — the first time.

Myth #3 – Most fast food workers are teenagers.

There’s also the myth that only teenagers work at fast food or other low wage jobs for pocket money – something that’s also used in resistance to an increase in minimum wage. But that’s definitely not the case. Today, the case is that the people working at places like McDonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s are older and more educated than what you might think. The Center for Economic and Policy Research actually has a report that found that people aged 25-54 hold the largest share of fast food jobs and more than a third of workers over the age of 20 have a child to support.

Myth #4 – Workers can climb the ladder to better paying jobs.

The fast food industry is actually really difficult to climb through, something that the National Employment Law Project covered in a 2013 brief. And a part of that is that being able to own a franchise is really difficult because many chains require franchisees to be quite wealthy in order to purchase and run a store. Alan Pyke wrote about this, saying that:

In order to be considered for franchise ownership at Wendy’s, applicants must show a net worth of $5 million. KFC, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Jack in the Box set their minimums at $1.5 million. At the low end, Subway requires net worth of $80,000 for franchisees.

And for low wage workers (who are often just barely covering the bills every month and sometimes not being to), this type of wealth is unimaginable in this lifetime. In fact, many low wage workers and fast food workers actually rely on public assistance in addition to their wages to survive so access to that type of wealth just isn’t there for many.

Myth #5 – Tips aren’t necessary.

Actually, tips are incredibly important for so many workers. A part of that is that minimum wage is just not livable for many people and tips help many to survive. Another part of it is the concept of a tipped minimum wage, something that’s been set at $2.13 since 1991. A tipped minimum wage is a base wage for employees who receive a substantial portion of compensation from tips  – the theory being that tips will make up the difference.

And if the tipping minimum wage plus tips don’t meet up with the federal minimum wage, employers are theoretically supposed to make up the difference. But that doesn’t always happen as Srau Jayaraman describes to NPR:

“Enforcement is not just difficult, it’s practically impossible for employers to have to count hour by hour to make sure that tips make up the difference for every worker for every hour they’ve worked,” Jayaraman says.

And even if employers can ensure that tips make up the difference, Jayaraman says, that essentially creates a system in which the workers are living completely off the mercy and largesse of customers.

These are just some of the myths and systems that unfortunately work against low wage workers. Classism within the United States shows itself in many ways, including underpaying and undervaluing the low wage workers that are just trying to survive. And I’ve spent most of this post talking mainly about fast food jobs but other industries like hotels and parts of the health care profession also deal with many similar issues.

Ultimately, I’m here for corporations raising their minimum wages and actually caring about the health and safety of their workers. (Yes, safety is a huge issue for many workers, especially those in the fast food industry! And not all places are adequately ready to handle work related injuries – some workers even being told to put butter, mayo, or other things on burns instead of receiving first aid!.) I’m here for all the workers out there to be able to survive and for corporations to not benefit and profit off of the desperation and abuse of those living in poverty.

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7 thoughts on “Myths of Low Wage Work.

  1. I can’t believe we even have to fight for people to make enough to survive when they are working 30-40 hours a week. If your employer takes that much of your time, you should be able to pay rent, feed yourself and your dependents. I mean, seriously, keeping minimum wage below a living wage is just unethical. Thanks for combating these myths and fighting for justice.

    • Right?! And when I was writing this, I kept coming across experiences of people being scheduled just under 40 hours a week so they could be technically classified as part time and not have benefits but still work almost a full work week. The entire notion that people need two or three jobs that take an inordinate amount of time to cover bills and to survive is outrageous. It’s unethical, like you said!

  2. contagiousqueer, one would think that paying a “living” wage would just be a reactionary measure, a Band-Aid over the “problem”so to speak….what are your thoughts on just abolishing the status quo altogether and opening up the necessities of life (land, natural resources etc.) to all people (instead of a very few)?

    • I do think that a living wage is just a reactionary measure – it’s a solution to a corrupt status quo that in both the short and long term would be better off abolished.

      What I’m struggling around is how exactly to abolish is and what exactly would happen after that. I do think that opening up, as you say, the necessities of life to everyone is essential because it would allow survival to be more of a right than the privilege it is now.

      And for now, I fight for living wages because that status quo unfortunately still exists and there are too many still struggling to live within it.

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