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The Fight For Fifteen
May 12, 2013 5:43 PM   Subscribe

In what could be the largest strike of its kind, hundreds of fast food workers in Detroit walked off their jobs on Friday, echoing the rallying cry heard (or not?) across the country that the currently underpaid workers deserve $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. Friday's strike in Detroit comes on the heels of similar actions in other cities—Wednesday and Thursday in St. Louis, and in Chicago and New York City last month.
posted by SkylitDrawl (110 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hundreds out of tens of thousands of workers. They probably lose more employees when there's an Insane Clown Posse show in town.
posted by empath at 5:55 PM on May 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


They will not succeed because they have very little power and do not know how to use the mote of power they do have.

You might as well make a front page post about my demands for a free Vespa scooter.
posted by Ghost Mode at 5:56 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hundreds out of tens of thousands of workers. They probably lose more employees when there's an Insane Clown Posse show in town.

The brave are few.
posted by Evstar at 5:58 PM on May 12, 2013 [23 favorites]


It's maybe worth noting that Minnesota's minimum wage is also $7.25. I suspect $7.25 an hour goes rather further here.
posted by hoyland at 6:07 PM on May 12, 2013


If you are in the Detroit area, boycott the following: "McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Dollar Tree, Little Caesar’s, Domino’s, Long John Silver’s."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:09 PM on May 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


i wish them well - but the idea that some people are going to be losers so others can consider themselves winners is far too ingrained

yahoo had a story about this today and the comments were depressing as hell - all "well, educate yourself so you can get a real job" or "i do x for 14 bucks an hour and my job's tougher, so i don't think so"

just another day in omelas, i guess ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:17 PM on May 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


As we move even deeper and faster into a service dependent economy this needs to happen and must happen as part of a reformulation between the 1% and 99%. This is as critically important and just as important, perhaps even more important, than bank and tax reform. Any one working full time should be able to live independently, eat healthily, have basic transportation, medical care, a social life and a luxury now and then.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:22 PM on May 12, 2013 [71 favorites]


There was a time when non union workers aspired to be unionized and catch up to the living standards of those unionized. Today...not so much. Today's theme is to kill the unions to bring those workers down to the same level as the non union workers. Speaks volumes about the ability of the upper classes to bamboozle the lower classes.
posted by notreally at 6:25 PM on May 12, 2013 [33 favorites]


Hundreds out of tens of thousands of workers. They probably lose more employees when there's an Insane Clown Posse show in town.

How did you manage to develop contempt for people who are trying to achieve a better life for themselves and their families?
posted by tripping daisy at 6:30 PM on May 12, 2013 [101 favorites]


I'm surprised by this negative response. I have lawyer friends who helped organize the New York protests and it was a really big deal here.

Also:
How did you manage to develop contempt for people who are trying to achieve a better life for themselves and their families?

Yeah, don't get this.
posted by sweetkid at 6:42 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised by this negative response. I have lawyer friends who helped organize the New York protests and it was a really big deal here.

No it wasn't.
posted by Ghost Mode at 6:47 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I cannot boycott an industry I do not patronize.
posted by Ardiril at 6:47 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised by this negative response. I have lawyer friends who helped organize the New York protests and it was a really big deal here.

No it wasn't.


It was a big deal for the people in that community, yes. I mean what?
posted by sweetkid at 6:49 PM on May 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's maybe worth noting that Minnesota's minimum wage is also $7.25. I suspect $7.25 an hour goes rather further here.

At 30 hours a week, that's just under the poverty line for a single person household.
posted by Garm at 6:49 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's maybe worth noting that Minnesota's minimum wage is also $7.25. I suspect $7.25 an hour goes rather further here.

Detroit is in Michigan, where the minimum wage is $7.40 an hour, not Minnesota.
posted by The World Famous at 6:51 PM on May 12, 2013


Maybe it won't work, but good for them. And who knows, maybe the other 10,000 workers will get on board.
posted by Halogenhat at 6:53 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


dang... I'm in michigan, and this is the first I've heard of it. Thanks for the news, and solidarity forever
posted by rebent at 6:53 PM on May 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


"We help them earn those billions of dollars that give them the lifestyle that the CEOs get. They earn million-dollar paychecks, so why can't they give us something that we can live on?" says Barrera.

On some issues MetaFilter tends to get irked at being forced to have a 101-level discussion. I'm reminded of that here. If their spokesfolks are stuck on the old question of why a CEO gets paid more than a fast-food cashier, that's not an encouraging sign that the movement is prepared for an adult-level conversation.

"It's not teenagers working after-school jobs," says Westin. "It's adults with families that are trying to take care of their kids and can't put food on the table. They can work here for 10, 15 years and still be making the same wages as when they started."

I don't live in any of those cities (Chicago, Detroit, New York, St. Louis), and I don't eat fast food frequently. But I do occasionally, and I see both: teenagers working after-school jobs, right alongside adults with families. Being inaccurate or dishonest about small details ("It's not just teenagers...") isn't a smart way to begin.

Rasheen Aldridge, a striking Jimmy John’s employee, described the disparaging treatment workers in his store are subjected to... “We’re treated like crap basically. It’s almost like new-day slavery.”

No, it really isn't, and God am I sick of that comparison.
posted by cribcage at 6:59 PM on May 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


Here's why this won't happen.

This is what a fast food restaurant's weekly P&L looks like, not including labour:

Revenue
$20,000

Operating Cost
-6200 food cost
-800 packaging

=$13,000

Other Controlables
-200 cleaning supplies
-100 office supplies
-100 trainsportation
-100 bank fees
-50 smallwares
-200 R&M

=$12,250

Occupancy Cost
-3,000 lease
-150 insurance
-200 electricity
-100 gas
-200 phone/internet
-150 music

= $8450

A $1M restaurant is going to be open around 100 hours per week, and will need about 350 hours of labour. At $15/hr (plus around $1.50/hr in tax and insurance) we're looking at roughly $2600/wk cash flow. To simply break even on his $700,000 investment in building the restaurant an owner will now have to wait 5 years. Of course by now he's spent $150,000 in financing, and will soon have to pay another $80,000 in renovations, delaying his break even point another 2 years, at which point the lease is up for renewal and the landlord takes another $1000 a week.

So to pay fast food workers $15 an hour you have to find an owner willing to spend almost a million dollars to work 60 hours a week unpaid for close to 10 years, and risk a 50% chance of the business failing, to finally get a return of about $80,000 p/a.
posted by evilpicard at 7:11 PM on May 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


You might as well make a front page post about my demands for a free Vespa scooter.

This isn't about your scooter. Its about supporting families.
posted by tommyD at 7:20 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hundreds out of tens of thousands of workers.

It always starts out as a trickle, never a full-blown flood.

I don't patronize chain restaurants but for those who do, this might be a great time to quit eating their fast food shit and start helping local places make a dollar.

Any one working full time should be able to live independently, eat healthily, have basic transportation, medical care, a social life and a luxury now and then.

And a cat. Every minimum wage employee should also be able to afford a kitteh.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:20 PM on May 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


Australia does $15.96 an hour and they seem to be doing okay. But they don't seem to have fast food restaurants, so...
posted by gc at 7:20 PM on May 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


They should be asking for access to the Fed discount window, 0% helicopter loans for all Americans, not just Goldman Sachs. We haven't had appreciable wage inflation in 35 years, passing out free money to those who are going to spend it immediately would do far more to spur economic recovery than buying $80bil/mo in treasuries, and some moderate general inflation would still go a long, long way towards wiping out the kind of crushing debt that a lot of low income and young people locked out of the asset-price only recovery are still dealing with 4 years after the housing crash.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:21 PM on May 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


There was a time when non union workers aspired to be unionized and catch up to the living standards of those unionized. Today...not so much. Today's theme is to kill the unions to bring those workers down to the same level as the non union workers. Speaks volumes about the ability of the upper classes to bamboozle the lower classes.

It could also easily speak of the unions "fuck you I got mine" mentality. Two tiered systems, and a general turning away from using their power to help all workers, to their own needs. Unions had a part in destroying the solidarity with the lower classes.
posted by zabuni at 7:25 PM on May 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


If their spokesfolks are stuck on the old question of why a CEO gets paid more than a fast-food cashier, that's not an encouraging sign that the movement is prepared for an adult-level conversation.

I just participated in a unionization effort last fall, and this is exactly the kind of thing we were trained to say to the media. This is what makes sense to people who make the kinds of news-site comments pyramid termite mentioned (and I saw exaclty those sentiments on my local Patch last night!) It's simple, relatable, to the point. 'Hey, this is a rich company. We don't begrudge anyone their success, but we're making the company work well and generating those profits - and there's enough to go around. We're good at our work and proud of it. Why shouldn't we be able to work a fulltime job and make a decent wage? "

There's zero chance they aren't being trained by labor organizers and receiving the same training I got. There were times I thought the rhetoric was stupid too, but it was effective. They know what they're doing. The odds are just long.

And, go striking McDee folks. They're noticing.
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on May 12, 2013 [40 favorites]


Right on, Miko. Very cool.
posted by sweetkid at 7:31 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


In 1987, the minimum wage where I grew up was $3.35 an hour, which is also what I made at my first job in that year...and my second job in 1988, a union grocery store job, paid $5ish an hour by comparison (although there were upfront uniform and dues costs), ultimately paying me in the mid-$8 range four years later when I left. Rents for a crappy one bedroom were $300-400.

The fact that minimum wage is in the $7s now, but rents are upwards of $1200 for the equivalent one bedroom in that area, is a real wake-up call to me. How do people afford housing any more?
posted by davejay at 7:33 PM on May 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


Reading people's reactions to this sort of thing is disheartening. I live in a blue collar area where one of the largest employers is unionized, and, growing up I often heard, in a jealous way, that people sweeping the floors there could make $X an hour, where X is held up as some crazy undeserved sum, but in truth works out to a decent middle class salary.

Somehow, the extremely wealthy have made it that lower middle class working people resent their neighbors who make a slightly higher salary more than they resent the CEOs and executives who pull down a hundred or a thousand times that middle class janitor's salary.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:35 PM on May 12, 2013 [41 favorites]


The left really needs to start making better arguments. 1% / 99%, strike, union. Fuck all that. It's meaningless.

Here are the two best arguments for and against raising wages.

Against: When it comes to min wage workers, fast food restaurants average 400 percent employee turnover per year -- meaning, they completely replace ALL of their employees FOUR times a year. Why would you invest anything in this kind of work force?

For: Because it makes you more money in the long run. Exhibit A: In-N-Out Burger pays 2-3 times min wage, spends a tenth on marketing, and makes more money per restaurant than most everyone.

There. Make that argument and you win. Stop talking about socialism, Occupy, freeing Mumia or any other bullshit, get an economics degree, and get to fucking work.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:38 PM on May 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Australia does $15.96 an hour and they seem to be doing okay.

Isn't their cost of living kind of insane?
posted by desjardins at 7:39 PM on May 12, 2013


get an economics degree, and get to fucking work

Setting aside the point that if they had access to thigs like economics degrees, they wouldn't be working at McDonald's, The thing is, it's possible to reject entirely this line of thinking. Optimizing for maximum efficiency and cash return is a value system, not a force of Nature or ordained by God, and it flat out doesn't aim to take care of workers, who are all replaceable. When In'N'Out figures out a way to do it more cheaply without retaining staff, they will, and then where will that argument be? Go to the next worst employer, I suppose. Always take whatever crumbs the search for maximum efficiency leaves on the table, workers, and don't complain about it.

If In N Out didn't try to find a more financially remunerative way, it's because they value something other than maximum optimization, and so they'd be romantic chumps who deserved to lose, and their employees too.

This set of values and ideas we call "optimization" or "efficiency" has a lot of flaws as a holistic system. We've kind of been snowed, for decades, into overlooking those flaws. Current realities are demonstrating what many of them are much more clearly.
posted by Miko at 7:50 PM on May 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


I'd be in favor of somewhere like Detroit trying this out just so we can see whether it works or not. There's a pretty straightforward case that trying to manipulate market forces won't work, but rather than just leave it at that, I'd like to see what happens.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:51 PM on May 12, 2013


Cost of living, Australia.

What's quality of life worth? Insurance coverage? A good quality free public education? A healthy and safe society?
posted by Miko at 7:52 PM on May 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


After checking a few of the cost of living comparison websites (including the one Miko links), I was surprised to see that relative difference between Aus & the US is not too dissimilar to that between New York & Portland.
posted by Pinback at 7:59 PM on May 12, 2013




I remain amazed by the people who rush in, every time there is any sort of movement towards socialization or labor organizing/regulating, to remind us all that it's all pointless, the Left is too stupid, unions are doomed and we should all just fucking give up.

And then top it off with a simplistic "just do X!" statement because clearly the poors and the labor types and liberals just never thought of that One Magic Argument that will make America love them again.

What is this attitude about? Protecting yourselves against disappointment? Pure cynicism? Actual hatred of anyone who tries to change things?

If you've ever gone to a march, or donated time to a movement, you know; change is hard. The rewards don't happen right away, if ever. The forces aligned against you are usually large and well-funded. You can either keep trying in the face of this or give up.

And so, ok, maybe you give up. But why does that always seem to include trying to snipe at the people who are still fighting? Nobody's making you march if you don't want to march. Must you fling shit at the people who are?
posted by emjaybee at 8:02 PM on May 12, 2013 [54 favorites]


As Junior Robots says, "This time, you take our order."
posted by No Robots at 8:23 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


From Miko's link:

Labor experts say that the workers wages have fallen, and stand in sharp contrast to the performance of companies they work for. Corporate profits were up 19% in the third quarter, the greatest share of the economy in history.

"You find out that your hard work is paying off and the company is doing well, and you're being asked to work for $8 an hour," said Cornell.

Related: Workers' Christmas wish: Fire the boss

McDonald's (MCD, Fortune 500), the world's largest hamburger joint, hasn't fared so poorly. Last year, sales increased 12%.The largest U.S. retailer Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) hasn't fared so badly either. Even at the height of the recession in 2009, the company's sales rose 7%.

Workers' wages, on the other hand, have fallen to their lowest-ever, as a share of the economy.

posted by rtha at 8:24 PM on May 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think it will be more interesting to see what kind of success can be had. One of the ingredients for a successful strike is having leverage over a business by threatening to deprive it of the unique skills needed to operate. The difficulty here is that fast food businesses are designed so as to not need specialized skills. Which is why fast food is often regarded as entry level, low skill work.

I'm guessing success will depend more on the solidarity of customers than the power of owning a unique skill set. A place like Detroit has a long history of worker sympathy for union efforts. But Michigan has seen some very tough times regarding unionization, and Detroit in particular has been bled for a few decades now. So I'm wondering if the critical question becomes, "How much solidarity can we afford?"
posted by 2N2222 at 8:32 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there's a value to these efforts that goes beyond immediate affect on the workers involved (much as I wish them success). Their very actions (and the increasing frequency of them) are a significant and visible critique of the status quo.
posted by Miko at 8:38 PM on May 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here's why this won't happen.

This is what a fast food restaurant's weekly P&L looks like, not including labour:


Where did you get this information? You say that their income is only 1 million per year, when the average McDonalds earns 2.4 million per year.
Based on my experience, I estimate the sales price of an existing McDonalds franchise (or company-owned restaurants sold as turnkey franchises) to be in the $2 million to $6 million range, plus or minus, depending on their sales, profit margins, historical trend, etc.
At the 10% profit margin, and a business value of 2-6 million after a successful location is established, it's disingenuous to claim that an investor is left earning "only" 80,000 per year. There's room for a living wage for their workers, but that means earning something close to what they pay their workers. The owners are shocked and offended by this request, because they believe that they are entitled to be very wealthy while their workers are entitled to live below the poverty line. I'm sure that leads to a terrific professional relationship.
posted by tripping daisy at 8:55 PM on May 12, 2013 [22 favorites]


this might be a great time to quit eating their fast food shit and start helping local places make a dollar.

When I do this I get called a "fucking hipster" and blamed for gentrification.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:57 PM on May 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


When I do this I get called a "fucking hipster" and blamed for gentrification.

MegoSteve's comment above speaks to this directly.
posted by davejay at 9:02 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


My sympathies are divided here. I agree that people working at these jobs deserve better. Part of the problem, as previously mentioned, is that the value of their labor is very low, and ever falling.

Allowing these people entrance to the middle class expands the middle class, but in no way helps the lower classes and non-workers. We should be advocating for a living wage as a human right, rather than a particular worker's right.
posted by steve jobless at 9:07 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


In Australia I joined as a cashier in Safeway with zero experience and got put to work manning a checkout for $21 per hour on weekdays and $32 per hour on weekends, and if it was after 8pm it went up to about $37 per hour, and public holidays about $63 per hour. This was about 5 years ago, and the pay has undoubtedly gone up since then, very impressive for non skilled work, and compared favourably to what people in entry level accounting / IT were earning.

This is likely what a more egalitarian society looks like. Also the steep marginal taxes (nearly 50% for people above $180k) further narrow the gap between the have and have nots.
posted by xdvesper at 9:08 PM on May 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


Allowing these people entrance to the middle class expands the middle class, but in no way helps the lower classes and non-workers.

It sets a good example, no?

We should be advocating for a living wage as a human right, rather than a particular worker's right.

Rights are co-extensive with power. Power must be demonstrated in order to secure rights.
posted by No Robots at 9:11 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I work full-time with benefits as a retail manager, a "real job," and the benefits only barely make my salary worth it. I would kill adorable ducklings to make $15/hour. In the interim I instead just kill my mental & physical health and look desperately for a job outside retail that offers health insurance.

Sneer at these people's aspirations all you want, but the "real jobs" don't offer much hope either. Burn this entire fucked-up, fucking-people-over system to the ground.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:27 PM on May 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


xdvesper nails it. As an occasional visitor to the US I am often amazed by how cheap prepared food is. A society that redistributes better through taxation, collective bargaining and labour regulation has more expensive food AND higher wages, hopefully with the increase in the latter more than off-setting the increase in the former.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:31 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Allowing these people entrance to the middle class expands the middle class, but in no way helps the lower classes and non-workers.

It sets a good example, no?


Perhaps in some cases, but it can also work to the opposite. Once people feel they have "earned" something, they tend to turn around an want others excluded. For example, in the US, health insurance is tied to employment. Extending coverage to everyone is unpopular, and viewed by many as unfair, because of this.

You can't go on strike if you don't have a job.
posted by steve jobless at 9:35 PM on May 12, 2013


I am also confused by the scorn. Service employment is now what manufacturing was in the early 20th century. The wages and conditions are horrible, and whole businesses are predicated on that horribleness. I don't know if strikes will work, but I also don't know that they won't work, and they sure seem worth trying.
posted by feckless at 9:47 PM on May 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think there's a value to these efforts that goes beyond immediate affect on the workers involved (much as I wish them success). Their very actions (and the increasing frequency of them) are a significant and visible critique of the status quo.

OK, now I'm getting annoyed. At first, I saw the $15/hr angle and figured, "if you gotta aim, may as well aim high, I suppose". But this makes it sound more like a consciousness raising armchair campaign by all the usual suspects here who don't actually work fast food and have no actual stake in this fight. Maybe I have a naive idea that one should view a strike as less a symbolic gesture, and more of an action aimed at making real, concrete, meaningful change. The value of these actions as visible critique can just as easily fade into meaninglessness if they are not realistic, and fail as a result.

I get the feeling even the strongest supporters don't take the idea seriously. Because supporters make noisemaking out to be what's really important. It starts to sound a bit like all those Occupy threads, where the outcome could have been so much better if only everyone would just believe hard enough, say only nice things, and think only positive thoughts about the movement. Openly expressed heartfelt concern is enough, and skepticism over the details is the enemy.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:52 PM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't recall skepticism about details being a problem at Occupy. The first time I saw a general assembly I heard an hour long hot debate about whether to open a bank account, and where, and who would have signing privileges, and how the GA as a whole would exercise oversight over the way funds would be used, and...and... No decision was reached.

If Occupy had done what these strikers are doing (staying on message with a straightforward and easily understood objective) things would have gone differently. Not necessarily better, but differently.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:18 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Australia does $15.96 an hour and they seem to be doing okay.

Isn't their cost of living kind of insane?


What constitutes insane? Serious question; these kinds of national comparisons are hard to do. You have to take into account the difference in personal overheads. For example, health insurance isn't a massive cost in Australia. Further, the average weekly earnings in Australia ($1489 AUD/$1484 USD) are more than double that of the US. ($773 USD/$775 AUD). So the higher costs of living are offset by the higher earnings. US tourists will feel the sting, but locals don't really notice it as much.

I'll note that Australian unemployment is at 5.5% at the moment.

US unemployment is at 7.5%, even with its much lower minimum wages (although admittedly, this varies greatly by state).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:28 PM on May 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


It could also easily speak of the unions "fuck you I got mine" mentality. Two tiered systems, and a general turning away from using their power to help all workers, to their own needs. Unions had a part in destroying the solidarity with the lower classes.

OK, I'm in "As Goes Janesville" Janesville and have had close contact with UAW and other union members in the Scott Walker fight, such as at one of the "Bainport" protests, and I just don't think this makes much sense. The union workers I know -- at least the politically active ones -- are very attuned to the importance of labor in our history and politics, considering most of them are just ordinary men and women who didn't go to college. They do talk of dealing with their "Reagan Democrat" buddies who go home and vote for anti-union politicians (something like 38% of union household voters voted against the recall of Walker). But ultimately a union is there to back the needs of its own members, not be some sacrificial lamb in the name of class solidarity. When the auto workers were faced with a two-tiered contract, it wasn't "fuck you", it was stark reality that this was a choice between a two-tiered system and one hell of a lot of union members out of work as plants closed. The fact that they were blackmailed with their own jobs doesn't make it any nicer a situation for the new workers, but it was certainly not a choice made in luxury. Lots of workers here signed that contract but ended up taking buyouts or, ultimately, getting laid off. Homes have been lost. Families have been broken up. These are real people, too, and like everyone else they're on their back foot in this fight.

The flip side is that unions like SEIU are doing a tremendous amount of organizing and political activity in this area, co-protesting with the Occupy movement, and other stuff you may know about.

An argument can be made that manufacturing unions took the blue pill, as it were, accepting middle-class wages and a mortgage ball-and-chain as the price for their solidarity and shared experience. I know there was a lot of resentment against those same workers 20 years ago, as GM's struggles began in earnest, and of course it's always easy to blame the victim. There's a lot of water under the bridge here. The most important point I think I can make is that when you speak of "the unions" you're actually talking about a lot of different workers, in different companies and even industries, who made a lot of rational choices over the years when they were faced with a very deliberate program of labor globalization, wage stagnation, benefit decimation, and political demonization. They're not a monolith and they didn't write their own ticket to a dead end. They were shunted onto that track.
posted by dhartung at 12:53 AM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Australia does $15.96 an hour and they seem to be doing okay.

Isn't their cost of living kind of insane?


Not really and it depends entirely on where you live and your lifestyle. You want to live in the heart of the Sydney CBD, you'll pay for it just like if you want to live right in the middle of Manhattan.

But I tell you this: I do not know anyone who has been driven to bankruptcy by medical bills. Our schools are cheap. Our infrastructure is not in a constant state of decay. We don't have whole cities the size of Detroit crumbling into nothingness. Everyone is entitled to enough to eat and have somewhere to live, maybe not the Ritz, but a fucktonne better than a box under a bridge.

That higher cost of living buys you a whole lot of dignity.

I really, sincerely hope these guys succeed. Everyone deserves that dignity.
posted by Jilder at 2:11 AM on May 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


This is what a fast food restaurant's weekly P&L looks like, not including labour:

or franchise fees?

frankly, i have trouble believing figures like this when you've forgotten something this big
posted by pyramid termite at 2:30 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


davejay: The fact that minimum wage is in the $7s now, but rents are upwards of $1200 for the equivalent one bedroom in that area, is a real wake-up call to me. How do people afford housing any more?

The answer? you don't. I barely, and by almost a fluke jackhammered my way out of this lifestyle. Nearly every friend of mine works in some retail or foodservice job making minimum wage or barely more.(and MW is almost $10 here in washington. a lot of people make 10.25 or something). No one gets full time. A lot of people get a LOT less than full time.

I don't know a single person who has an apartment they don't share who isn't also in school and getting student loans/FAFSA money, a bit of money from their parents(not trust fund style, like $100 a month), or something else like that.

Everyone is just sharing places, and there's quite a few sharehouses all the way down to what are in all but name flophouses owned by slumlords.

I recently moved out of a place that had mice, the previous tenants had filled the attic with like 15 bags of garbage, the cable company refused to connect internet or tv service("how do we know you're not just one of the old people who didn't pay the bill?"), the garbage company quit picking up the trash, the roof caved in/leaked, the floor seeped water through, one of the walls rotted out, i could go on. the place was a fucking shithole.

And you know what everyone said? "wow, you found a place in this area for that cheap? jealous". I saw several people i tertiarily know post "Oh wow, look at this cheap house i found on craigslist [link]" on facebook after i moved out who were about to jump in to the same meatgrinder.

Housing is absolutely fucked, that's what it is. A lot of people are working minimum wage or barely more at severely cut hours and making maybe $700 a month. Then they get hit with $400+ of rent which is just how it be no matter how far up the bus lines you wanna go. I know people who are 4 up in a small two bedroom apartment(one guy in the living room, one guy in the dining room-nook, one in each tiny bedroom) just because of the cost.

I feel like the average mefite is fairly far away from anything resembling this lifestyle, nor have they ever come all that close to it. They may have lived in a "party house" or something in college, but it's an entirely different animal when you're out of school(or didn't go), into your 20s, and this is just how life looks all the way out to the horizon.

It kills my soul a bit since i look at some of my friends coworkers, who are in their 30s, 40s, or even older who are stuck renting tiny room to let off of craigslist in a shady house.
posted by emptythought at 3:20 AM on May 13, 2013 [26 favorites]


People who care about things are stupid and trying is dumb.
posted by Legomancer at 5:06 AM on May 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


How did you manage to develop contempt for people who are trying to achieve a better life for themselves and their families?

I didn't. A few hundred people calling out of work means nothing, though. It's a fraction of a percent. I don't know what unions are doing, but they aren't helping any of the people that really need it. They seem to have abandoned unskilled labor.
posted by empath at 5:11 AM on May 13, 2013



The comments in Miko's link are so ugh. Such disdain all around. Feckless bring up a very good point service jobs in today's economy are like manufacturing jobs in the past century where the union movement was birthed.

I have to shake my head at the attitude and belief that lower skilled jobs are worth so little as to equal people living at and in a good many case below the poverty level depending on cost of living in the area. Especially since a majority of people use a good many of these services to go about their daily lives. It's more then just the fast food industry.

I'm trying to understand why so many people are a-ok with relegating many of the people that work in these jobs to essentially being 'working and yet still living in poverty'. They're jobs and regardless of the skills needed to do them people doing them are required to work as hard as any other higher skilled job. They're part of the engine that allows higher skilled jobs and people's lives to function. It's almost like that aristocratic attitudes that you see prevalent in times like the Gilded Age have been filtered down to the masses. ' You're here to serve me pion. And hell you'd better serve me nicely or I'll complain. '

Someone has to do these types of jobs. Our respective economies depend on them being done. Why shouldn't the people doing them, skilled or unskilled be paid enough to actually live decently on. And I'm not defining decently with that high a bar. Food, shelter, basic living expenses and basic health both physical and mental expenses.

I suppose it is a moral question. I have business experience, I've run and managed several businesses. I understand how costs vs profit planning and budgeting works. Over my lifetime I've worked on both sides of the fence.

If I can come to any conclusions the attitudes seems that the over arching idea of 'business' as philosophy has taken the place of the aristocracy in eras past. (I've been watching a lot of documentaries and shows about that era so it on my mind). That they have an inherent right to exist and do whatever it takes to continue to exist just because, it's 'business.' It's noble and we must support our nobility, they're born that way.

In my opinion if a business can't afford to pay the people doing the jobs it needs done, decently and without relegating them to poverty (peasant) levels then it is not actually a viable business in a moral sense. If that is the case, it just shouldn't exist. It's not actually a business.

I see the situation getting worse. Race to the bottom and all that. If things keep going as they are there will be a breaking point where more and more people will have had enough, get a clue or get to the point where they have little left to lose. Maybe this is the start of that. Like a trickle. Maybe it isn't.

It will happen though if the patterns of history are any indication.
posted by Jalliah at 5:23 AM on May 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


If the owners do not give in to their demands, the workers will start putting chemicals in the food that will give random customers deadly diseases like diabetes and cholesterol poisoning. Surely customers will turn away in drives if that happens.
posted by miyabo at 6:19 AM on May 13, 2013


It's worth watching this segment from All In with Chris Hayes following the most recent NYC strike. Hayes interviews two striking workers about their economic realities and why they joined the strike.
posted by cushie at 6:50 AM on May 13, 2013


If their spokesfolks are stuck on the old question of why a CEO gets paid more than a fast-food cashier, that's not an encouraging sign that the movement is prepared for an adult-level conversation.

Here's the quote again:
We help them earn those billions of dollars that give them the lifestyle that the CEOs get. They earn million-dollar paychecks, so why can't they give us something that we can live on?
Note that this is not saying "They earn million-dollar paychecks, so why can't we all earn million-dollar paychecks?".

They are not asking why a CEO is paid more than a fast-food cashier - they are not only not stuck on this question, they have apparently sailed past it effortlessly. They are saying that the CEO, who gets paid more than a fast-food cashier, relies on the aggregated labor of the front-line staff to show performance levels which justify his salary, and maintain the profits of the business. And therefore, by strong implication, it is both just and in the company's and the CEO's interest to have motivated, meaningfully remunerated staff.

Whether the numbers add up is another question (although a business that can only survive with poverty both as a fuel and a byproduct is probably not a healthy business, long-term), but there's no suggestion there that they think front-line workers should be paid as much as CEOs, or that this is part of their campaign.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:01 AM on May 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


growing up I often heard, in a jealous way, that people sweeping the floors there could make $X an hour, where X is held up as some crazy undeserved sum, but in truth works out to a decent middle class salary.

To try to explain this:

Let us suppose that you have decided to choose a "respectable" profession. Whatever that might be for your location and your area - and it works out to $X an hour. On this $X an hour, you manage to acquire a pretty reasonable middle class standard of living. There are opportunity costs for this profession - possibly familial (maybe you put off having kids for a while) or financial (you spent money to go to college) or a host of other things. Maybe you didn't have to shoulder those opportunity costs, but your parents did - maybe your parents worked their hands to the bone to make things better for you and give you a chance to get ahead. But you feel good about that.

Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another - something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment - makes, or wants to make, the same amount of money that you do. Without any of those opportunity costs that you or your family had to suffer, with a far lower bar.

It is natural that that is enraging, and it's not necessarily "jealousy" that causes it. It is the same feeling that I think many low wage workers also feel - that there is something wrong with a world that works that way.

If they are thinking in a more long-term sense, those workers may also realize that if those wages are raised for everyone, they are personally unlikely to continue their comfortable middle-class lifestyle. For the easiest impact here: what has has been said above: if you pay the people processing food more, food gets more expensive. Which means you can afford less of them. Americans, in particular, have gotten used to eating meat every day, not just on Sundays. Good cuts, with fresh vegetables, and a lot of ingredients that are labor-intensive. This is not sustainable if you pay people those higher wages. Whether it should have been a thing in the first place is a moral debate, but the plain fact is that right now, cheap food is made on the backs of cheap labor, and if you remove one, you also remove the other. (So is cheap clothing, and cheap electronics, and a host of other things, but that's a story for another day.)
posted by corb at 7:17 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Boycott the following: "McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Dollar Tree, Little Caesar’s, Domino’s, Long John Silver’s."

No problem, keep pitching the softballs.
posted by fusinski at 7:24 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another - something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment

"Mentally retarded" is not a good term to use.
posted by sweetkid at 7:27 AM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Part of the problem, as previously mentioned, is that the value of their labor is very low, and ever falling.

Yes, and we can change that.

consciousness raising armchair campaign by all the usual suspects here who don't actually work fast food and have no actual stake in this fight.

Excuse me. Please don't play identity politics with me, especially because you don't seem to know me; you may have labelled me one of the "usual suspects," but I doubt you have any knowledge of my experience in the foodservice industry or my experience with organizing and unions. Just maybe you're the one in the armchair.

Maybe I have a naive idea that one should view a strike as less a symbolic gesture, and more of an action aimed at making real, concrete, meaningful change. The value of these actions as visible critique can just as easily fade into meaninglessness if they are not realistic, and fail as a result.

It's not a naive idea, but even a career organizer understands that a single failed effort is one play in a long game. It will be a victory if one or two McDonald's locations, or Wal-Mart locations, or whatever, manage to unionize. But I know a bit about the odds here; those companies have mobilized vast amounts of management and lobbying efforts to forestall and break down unionizing efforts and any victories will also result in new and increased efforts against unions; the preponderance of "right-to-work" legislation is a significant change in the playing ground. One result of a unionization effort - even a failed one - can often be that the employer does revise policy to reduce work unrest. An can shift the balance of power in material ways that improve conditions incrementally for workers, even if the effort fails. Another result is a failure with no change in policy, that still stands as a significant moment in the corporate history of that company, generates useful information about its operations and tactics, and gives other workers more inspiration, more data, and more available experience from leaders who built that experience directly on the front lines of a union effort. Any union effort increases worker solidarity, knowledge, and self-confidence and professional self-worth on the part of those involved. All these are real benefits that have value even if that single effort fails.

The retail sector (food, hard goods, clothing, whatever) is indeed the manufacturing industry of the 21st century, all racing to the bottom to see just how poorly they can treat the workforce to undercut the next guy so that we can have a Dollar Value menu or a $10 pair of jeans. This economic pressure, in the absence of a pro-social set of values which is generally rejected by shareholders as noncompetitive, is going to continue to provide an incentive to employers to dig in against unionization. It may take 100 or 500 failed local unionization efforts to create change in the industry. Or it may be that 100 or 500 failed unionization efforts eventually result in hundreds of successful unionization efforts and create change in the industry. In short - worker organization is almost always a good thing, even if the outcomes fall short of the hopes.

Some notes:
  • 94% of union members have access to employer-provided healthcare plans, as opposed to 67% of nonunion workers
  • employers cover on average 83% of health insurance premiums for union members and their families versus 66% for nonunion members
  • union workers across all sectors earn more than nonunion workers. Union workers on average earn 27% more than non-union workers. There is a knock-on effect to this, as wages even in nonunion businesses in the same industry often have to rise to remain competitive.
  • Union women earn 38 percent more than non-union women, African-American union members earn 42 percent more than those without unions and Latino union members earn 52 percent more than their non-union counterparts.
  • when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better. Unions restore demand to an economy by raising wages for their members and putting more purchasing power to work, enabling more hiring.
  • Union workers get 28 percent more days of paid vacation, on average, than non-union workers.
  • 82 percent of union workers have paid sick leave, compared to 63 percent of nonunion workers.
  • 46 percent of unionized workers receive full pay while on sick leave, versus only 29 percent of non-union workers.
  • And dhartung is right about efficacy. Whatever you think about the passage of Obamacare, we owe, in all honesty, most of the organizing effort to the SEIU.
    Prior to the 1980s, productivity gains and workers' wages moved in tandem. But from 1980 to 2008, nationwide worker productivity grew by 75 percent, while workers' inflation-adjusted average wages increased by only 22.6 percent.

    This means that over the course of the last 30 years or so, workers were compensated for only 30.2 percent of their productivity gains.

    If American workers were rewarded for 100 percent of their increases in labor productivity between 1980 and 2008, as they were during the middle part of the 20th century, average wages would be $28.53 per hour--42.7 percent higher than the average real wage was in 2008.
    It is astounding how many Americans are eager to flaunt their anti-union sentiment. Most people's family rose to the middle class from immigration or poverty by the mid-20th century without union work - in manufacturing, teaching, nursing, public sector work, law enforcement.

  • posted by Miko at 7:27 AM on May 13, 2013 [22 favorites]


    opportunity costs that you or your family had to suffer

    That's not what opportunity cost means.

    Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another - something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment

    This is a statement revealing not only near-complete ignorance of what these job descriptions actually entail, but also contempt for both the individuals who do them and for the mentally retarded.

    if those wages are raised for everyone, they are personally unlikely to continue their comfortable middle-class lifestyle

    History shows the opposite. More spending at lower levels of the economy improves cash flow and stimulates growth, creating rising quality of life for everyone. That's the 20th-century American miracle, which we are throwing away. This is a case of people being too ignorant and short-sighted to identify the actual structural source of their financial problems. Folks who look at things this way have identified the wrong enemy.
    posted by Miko at 7:29 AM on May 13, 2013 [18 favorites]


    Here is my biggest worry for striking service industry workers of any variety, from a practical standpoint. Strikes need some measure of support beyond the strikers themselves to be really effective. For manufacturing strikes when unions were first being formed, this was easy to accomplish. Much of the time, the factory was the source of much of the economic activity in the community. A good portion of the community would work at the factory, and the much of the rest of the community's economic activity was based on providing goods and services to those factory workers.

    So, when the factory went on strike for better wages and working conditions, big portions of the community would react along the lines of, "Yes! My friends, neighbors, and/or customers do deserve better wages and to have a lower chance of dying! Solidarity!"

    I worry that for service industry workers, most peoples' initial reactions is going to be along the lines of "What the fuck? McDonalds is closed because the workers are striking? Those selfish fucks! I need my Big Mac!"

    I hope they have some real good people working on how to mitigate this sort of reaction.
    posted by Caduceus at 7:31 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


    For the easiest impact here: what has has been said above: if you pay the people processing food more, food gets more expensive. Which means you can afford less of them. Americans, in particular, have gotten used to eating meat every day, not just on Sundays. Good cuts, with fresh vegetables, and a lot of ingredients that are labor-intensive. This is not sustainable if you pay people those higher wages. Whether it should have been a thing in the first place is a moral debate, but the plain fact is that right now, cheap food is made on the backs of cheap labor, and if you remove one, you also remove the other. (So is cheap clothing, and cheap electronics, and a host of other things, but that's a story for another day.)

    Which would be a fair argument, except for the bit where that's not actually how it happens.

    We're in this unique and wonderful place in history, where almost every type of governance and policy we can think of has either been tried, or is currently being tried, somewhere in the world.

    Nobody is starved when you have a minimum wage that is livable. I cooked a vegetarian spag bol for my household tonight and in total it would have cost us like, seven bucks, to feed three adults and with plenty left over for tomorrow, and even then the big cost was the ridiculous amount of herbs I like to use. Loads of fresh veggies and herbs and some nice pasta. Works out to be like fifty cents a plate. And this is with everyone involved - the guys picking the veggies, the people at the grocery store, the packers and canners and whatnot - all getting paid a dignified wage.

    Despite the bleak insistence in this thread that a livable wage will kill all productivity, Australia has not, in fact, slid into some sort of stagnant economic mire due to our insistence that people working a thirty hour week serving the public should be able to eat and have a roof over their heads. Rather, we have one of the strongest economies on the planet, with a high standard of living. If you want you can eat your meat and fresh veg every night of the week if you so choose. I've got my cheap electronics (more expensive than the States, but it's an old protectionist import issue and has nothing to do with what we pay our workers) and I wear cheap clothes, many of them made locally. We're not suffering over here.

    You can pay your staff a living wage and not have your economy collapse, and we're proof of that. Miko is completely correct - you pay your staff, and they in turn pay you by having enough cash to buy your product. Keep them in poverty and you have no market. You want to squeeze your staff so that you, the business owner, can have a bigger slice of the pie? In the end, once everyone is doing it, you start to find no one has money to spend on whatever it is you're selling in the first place.
    posted by Jilder at 9:04 AM on May 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


    Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another...

    The idea of a lower-end white collar employee being annoyed that a low-skilled broom pusher makes the same money as them made me laugh out loud, actually...because I think the low-skilled broom pusher has made a smarter choice.

    I say that, because at my aforementioned union grocery store job, 17-year-old me would willingly and eagerly volunteer for the broom pushing jobs -- following the floor cleaning mini-zamboni with a mop, hanging paper signs in the window, clearing carts out of the parking lot during snowstorms -- that nobody else wanted to do, because I found those things to be easier and more pleasant work-wise than bagging other people's groceries and such.

    What they all had in common, though, was that they were physical labor. They didn't require much thought -- which I liked -- and they required I work up a sweat -- which I also liked -- and that's why nobody would ever fight me for those responsibilities. Plus, it kept me in better shape.

    Often, people will suggest that the broom pushing jobs are still bad choices because there isn't any upward mobility potential, but I disagree. The thing that got me promoted to cashier and general stock clerk at the grocery store was my work ethic, not the fact that I was holding a broom (well, mop.) When my boss would say "we need this done", I'd just do it without complaining, while most of my peers bitched and moaned and did everything they could to avoid working any harder than they had to. So, when opportunities opened up, I got 'em, and my pay grade raised accordingly.

    Mind you, I'm not saying "fuck those people who can't make more money, it is their fault for not working hard enough." On the contrary, I'm saying that some fine employees with a lot of potential may be pushing a broom around right now, so before you assume they're not worth another doller, consider that perhaps they're just waiting for the chance to show you how much more they can do (and get paid accordingly, naturally.)
    posted by davejay at 9:53 AM on May 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


    Over the last couple weeks, McDonalds said that same-store sales are down from last year and that they are eliminating their premium angus line to emphasize their dollar menu. They also said they are looking at other menu items for possible elimination with a focus more on streamlining production with lesser consideration for food costs than they gave the Angus line. Reading between the lines, McDonalds is looking to prop up the quantity side of the equation at the expense of quality.

    This does not sound like a company that will entertain raising their labor budget anytime soon.
    posted by Ardiril at 10:42 AM on May 13, 2013


    This does not sound like a company that will entertain raising their labor budget anytime soon.

    McD's doesn't have any problem operating with wide variations on minimum wage depending on location. In the bigger cities where wages tend to be higher, menu prices are higher to make up for the difference. They operate worldwide, so they pay their employees depending on the local labor laws and wage requirements, which vary considerably when you look outside the US. This adjustment doesn't require revising top-down budgets from corporate management.
    posted by krinklyfig at 10:54 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


    But ultimately a union is there to back the needs of its own members, not be some sacrificial lamb in the name of class solidarity.

    This is just "fuck you got mine" spelled a bit differently. It's the other side of the corporate apologists' coin that companies are just maximizing profit for their shareholders.

    So, no. That's not acceptable. Or at least, it's not acceptable if you want the public to have solidarity in the other direction; "solidarity" isn't a one-way street. When you sell out non-union workers, or worse yet future unionized workers, to cut a better deal for current members, you lose the moral authority to speak on behalf of anyone except your current members. If the interests of your members and of workers generally are so disparate as to require you to screw the latter in order to advance the former, then you can't claim to be the champions of both.

    Although there's certainly a lot of blame to go around for why organized labor in the US is so feeble, but the pointedly self-interested way that some unions have behaved certainly doesn't seem designed to inspire many feelings of love and devotion from those left out in the cold.
    posted by Kadin2048 at 11:07 AM on May 13, 2013


    Part of the problem, as previously mentioned, is that the value of their labor is very low, and ever falling.

    Yes, and we can change that.


    I don't see how. People need these jobs, more than the jobs need them.

    History shows the opposite. More spending at lower levels of the economy improves cash flow and stimulates growth, creating rising quality of life for everyone. That's the 20th-century American miracle, which we are throwing away. This is a case of people being too ignorant and short-sighted to identify the actual structural source of their financial problems. Folks who look at things this way have identified the wrong enemy.

    I would argue that the 20th century American miracle was never sustainable. It is what got us to the current state. The whole growth scheme inevitably becomes a race to the bottom.
    posted by steve jobless at 11:18 AM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


    t the pointedly self-interested way that some unions have behaved certainly doesn't seem designed to inspire many feelings of love and devotion from those left out in the cold.

    Everyone can organize.

    The whole growth scheme inevitably becomes a race to the bottom.

    I agree with you about the nature of growth as we currently conceive of it being essentially unsustainable. That's really a result of our use offiat currency and lending system, though. If we can't figure out another approach to our economy (like Slow Money is trying to do), we're going to continue enduring the constant push for continuous growth, and workers are going to need to protect themselves due to the unending pressure for profit that creates. It wasn't the distribution of revenue from business that got us into the current state - that worked well to produce middle-class prosperity.

    The reality is that this kind of unsustainable growth is still going on, only workers are keeping fewer of the financial gains than they did in the mid-20th century through 1974. The nature of growth as an economic strategy and the determination of an appropriate worker share of profits from business are actually two separate issues. Obviously related, but there is no denying that we have redistributed wealth upward quite purposefully over the last four decades.
    posted by Miko at 11:29 AM on May 13, 2013


    Jalliah: I'm trying to understand why so many people are a-ok with relegating many of the people that work in these jobs to essentially being 'working and yet still living in poverty'.

    Simple, they want someone to feel superior to. As if there's a huge jump in their lifestyle from when they were there in high school/college, and now they're on their way to being wealthy and have started climbing that later. They're not so much embarrassed millionaires now, they're living the dream.

    And by the time they're old enough to realize that's all a fucking lie they were sold about how anyone could make it to the 1% if they really tried, or even just that they could pretty easily, they're completely bitter and full of bile towards those people who never entered the race in the first place, whether by choice or not, and are still living the "simple" life they were in college (note:in the bitter fucks minds). They're not imagining the grim reality of working a shitty retail job at 40+, they're just thinking about how they thought they'd make it, how happy go lucky they were, how they'd just get home and rip the bong and play Starcraft for a few hours before they went out to go shotgun beers at a house party.

    It's almost a welfare queen type of thing. They're going "why do those people deserve more money? My life was so easy when I worked a job like that, I didn't need more money. And I certainly wasn't working very hard. My life was so low stress! If they want to make a wage like that they should take on some responsibility and get a real job, and jump through whatever hoops that entails."

    This is, as far as I can tell, what's going through most of those people's minds. It's absolute toxic privilege shit. They're incapable of realizing that living in a college party house\dorm and working 20 hours a week is not the same as having that be your real job. Or maybe some do, but they still don't care and think some horrible entitlement is going on here.

    It's 100% bootstraps "I got mine, why didn't you?" Bullshit regardless.
    posted by emptythought at 12:05 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


    you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another - something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment - makes, or wants to make, the same amount of money that you do. Without any of those opportunity costs that you or your family had to suffer, with a far lower bar.

    It is natural that that is enraging


    No, that's not "natural". Just because you have such tremendous anger towards a person who's picking up trash for a living, that does not mean that everyone does, or should.
    posted by Greg Nog at 12:51 PM on May 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


    Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another - something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment - makes, or wants to make, the same amount of money that you do. Without any of those opportunity costs that you or your family had to suffer, with a far lower bar.

    It is natural that that is enraging, and it's not necessarily "jealousy" that causes it. It is the same feeling that I think many low wage workers also feel - that there is something wrong with a world that works that way.


    Corb, perhaps you could help reintroduce a caste system to demarcate those who have "endured opportunity costs" and those who have not. We can even add shades of color to separate the monetary value of their education, including a band to indicate who had government assistance. Then we can safely put all of the lower classes -- I mean, low wage workers -- in separate schools and public areas so these kind of status tragedies can be avoided in the future.

    I know it's tough right now, imagining that someone outside of your caste can send their children to a good college and provide them with a good home in a safe, nurturing community by just working a regular job. But together, you and I can look forward to the present -- I mean, a future -- where we can drive through any working class neighborhood and reassure ourselves that almost none of those low wage workers or their children will ever make the same wage that we earned completely by ourselves with no outside help (as long as you don't count parents, community, government, friends, etc).

    We can stop, hand out some sandwiches, and then I'm sure they will thank us for denying them economic opportunities not only through institutions that denied them an education and a living wage, but also for a society that cares enough to pre-emptively deny those same opportunities for their children. And let's face it: if you're dumb enough to be born in a working class neighborhood, where you end up in life is your own damn fault.
    posted by tripping daisy at 1:41 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


    It's telling that this thread has some of this:

    "Oh, no, of course the CEO should make tons more.. but they could give a little of it to the front-line workers"..

    And also:

    "Why shouldn't the broom-pusher make the same amount of money as (low-end?) white collar workers"?

    .. which sounds a lot like "CEO deserve their extremely-high pay, but the skilled middle-class should be pushing for broom-pushers to make as much as they do". Which is.. yeech.. and telling, that even us lefties still have certain right-wing engrained ideas about class, entitlement, etc.

    apologies for my poor 'splaining, I'm not 100% right at the moment
    posted by mbatch at 1:47 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I agree this has followed a fairly predictable trajectory. Surprisingly no one has bothered to mention the animosity the broom pushers should feel for the dust pan holders.

    If this depression is long and deep enough, it may push more people close enough to the bottom to finally force us to confront the structural injustices of our economic system. Probably not...
    posted by steve jobless at 3:12 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I don't really mind the notion that everyone should enjoy a minimum standard of living and that that minimum should probably be close to the $15 mark, although even at that point, affording health care and such if your employer doesn't get it would be tough. But that, there, hints at the problem.

    If we made all the fast food jobs pay $15 an hour, tomorrow, it wouldn't be the executive pay that dropped, for the most part. It might, a little, but most of that change would translate into higher prices for fast food. Now, maybe this would be a net benefit, that people would eat less of it--but if people eat less fast food, the fast food industry employs fewer people.

    I don't see a wage-based solution for this that results in the same number of people enjoying a better standard of living, just a solution that results in a few people now in the middle class, and a bunch more now completely without an income. This is as opposed to a system where we would provide better subsidized child care, health care, etc, to everyone in low-wage jobs--and pay for that with higher tax rates for the wealthy, not higher prices for the lower and middle classes.

    Not that I think unions are bad or anything, and really I'm not sure the eat-less-fast-food option is really a bad one for society, but I'm not confident that the stated goal here really fixes the cost-of-living problem, and it would leave a lot of similarly situated people out in the cold.
    posted by Sequence at 3:26 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


    It is natural that that is enraging, and it's not necessarily "jealousy" that causes it.

    No, it is literally the definition of envy. Whether "natural" or not, envy is a bad thing according to a variety of secular and religious frameworks. Please do not attempt to disguise it as anything other than what it is.
    posted by Nomyte at 3:27 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another - something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment - makes, or wants to make, the same amount of money that you do. Without any of those opportunity costs that you or your family had to suffer, with a far lower bar.

    It is natural that that is enraging, and it's not necessarily "jealousy" that causes it. It is the same feeling that I think many low wage workers also feel - that there is something wrong with a world that works that way.


    What, this doesn't make that feeling somehow legitimate just because it's "understandable". It's still the most basal, childish kind of "HEY NO FAIR HE JUST GETS A LOLLIPOP AND I HAD TO DO MY HOMEWORK TO GET ONE, MOMMMMM!" bullshit.

    Just because you had to work harder than you should have to get something doesn't mean that the bar shouldn't be lowered to a more fair level later on. This is some serious pulling the ladder up behind yourself bullshit. "I managed to climb up with half the rungs broken off, why should the ladder be replaced for you? stop whining"

    Do you realize how shitty and ridiculous this sounds?

    something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment

    Is also incredibly offensive and a shitty attitude in and of itself, to the point that i'm literally staring at it mouth agape completely speechless. What the fuck?

    Regardless of whether or not it's "low skilled", it is hard shitty work that i bet you don't want to go out and do. How is this labor not worth a living wage? what is the justification for it not being such?
    posted by emptythought at 4:37 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another - something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment - makes, or wants to make, the same amount of money that you do. Without any of those opportunity costs that you or your family had to suffer, with a far lower bar.

    It is natural that that is enraging, and it's not necessarily "jealousy" that causes it. It is the same feeling that I think many low wage workers also feel - that there is something wrong with a world that works that way.


    There is a hell of a lot of projection going on in this assertion.

    Me? I don't know the full story of the lives of those broom handlers. Maybe they've been incarcerated before, and a cleaning job is the only one that'll hire you if you've got a criminal record. Maybe their parents sold drugs, and they're determined to do any other legal thing to earn money. Maybe they're a recent immigrant who doesn't speak much English, and a janitor job is a godsend because it's not customer-facing like so many entry-level jobs are now.

    I'm not enraged that people in these positions, and a hell of a lot of other marginalized ones, need to eat and pay rent and keep the lights on by whatever means there are. In fact, I'd like to make it as easy for them to do so as possible.

    I'm a white, well-educated, chronically under-employed 20something, and I've worked and volunteered in settings where a lot of paid workers are people with much less formal education but a lot of relevant lived experience. (Knowing how to apply for benefits, what local food pantries give the best bags, how to access drug treatment resources and stay sober, etc.) I have occasionally caught myself thinking that I wish I had a steady payed job like Jane and John Doe outreach workers from the neighborhood. Maybe there's even a touch of 'why can't I find a better job with my degree' resentment. Whenever I catch myself with those thoughts, I do not assume that they are 'natural;' I take them as a sign that I should check my incredible privilege, and remember that the kind of lived experiences that get you jobs as an outreach worker without a college education aren't things I'd wish on anyone.
    posted by ActionPopulated at 5:55 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Sequence, the assumptions you make have some truth in them but they're largely debatable. Anyone can take their understanding of the world and spin a narrative that suits their vision. I'm not saying that you are wrong and I'm right, but here's some food for thought...

    Labour costs are a relatively small part of total goods cost. For a manufactured items, an area I work in, it would be about 10% of the total retail price. For food and services, it's higher. I don't know how much of a McDonald's burger is attributed to labour but I'll throw out a wild guess and say it's not going to be more than 30%. Henry Ford did have the right idea in the early days, I suppose, say if labour costs are $2,000 out of a $20,000 car, you could double wages and the car would go up in price to $22,000 but your workers are now earning $60,000 instead of $30,000, and they'd be more likely to buy your car, or any car, for that matter, if all car manufacturers and all factories increased their minimum wage in step...

    Doubling minimum wages is going to see a general price level rise of about, say, 15% for locally made products, and nothing for imports, while minimum wage workers now earn twice as much, raising their standard of living a huge amount. Everyone middle class or above is now slightly worse off. Is this what we want?

    Raising minimum wages are going to have mainly redistributive effects rather than productivity effects. You imply that people will eat less fast food and that there will be less jobs? People still need to eat, in some way or form, regardless of the cost, and so there will be services and jobs that exist that provides the means for it. Overall demand for basic necessities will actually increase, since the people who might have abstained from consuming them now have the means to consume more. If anything, demand for fast food will actually increase, since the cost has only gone up by 30% yet the primary demographic that eats fast food has had their income increase by 100%.

    Even if people decided that eating out is too expensive and they'd rather cook, it could also be a net gain to the economy in terms of nutrition and family wellbeing and psychological health. In Australia, eating out is expensive, so we cook more often than we do in other countries where wages are low and food is cheap. Even if restaurant food prices dropped 50% overnight I'd still think cooking is worthwhile: if only because it's one of the few creative pursuits we humans get to do in a day (how often do you get to "create" something with your hands now?)

    Arguing economic theory gets us nowhere, because economics is more like a religion than a science. You can't (easily) perform repeatable experiments to test and confirm theories, and it's awfully hard to argue someone into your point view. There are a hunded confounding factors in each case study. You can look at the "evidence" from Australia or Sweden and ask why isn't India or the US like them, but it won't tell you very much.

    I like living in a society where I can say hi to the cashier in the grocery store and know they make a decent wage and probably have an iPhone in their back pocket. I like riding home on the bus and saying hi to the bus driver knowing he makes a decent wage and doesn't have to worry about medical or education expense for his children because the state takes care of them. I like knowing that all the people I interact with have, if not the same, something not too far away from the standard of living I do, worry about the same things and enjoy the same things I do. It would be a tragedy if a white collar worker would go around his day and interact with 10 minimum wage workers making $7 an hour, and he'd treat them like faceless robots, because, what else can he do, how can you empathize or even begin to understand the lives of people so far beneath your station? And in return, how can they empathize with you? It breaks the entire fabric of society.
    posted by xdvesper at 7:02 PM on May 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


    Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another [...] makes, or wants to make, the same amount of money that you do. Without any of those opportunity costs that you or your family had to suffer, with a far lower bar.

    So, I recently went to a lecture on a game-theoretic model of compensation for work, with both wage and social status components. The speaker opened with an anecdote about how during the industrial revolution, coal miners earned almost twice as much as blacksmiths (I think -- some skilled trade). Far from being envious, the blacksmiths felt that they were getting the better deal because their job was higher-prestige, plus it was above ground, had normal hours, and was unlikely to kill them in a wide variety of horrible ways.

    For every economic just-so story there exists an equal and opposite economic just-so story, is what I'm getting at.
    posted by zeptoweasel at 7:09 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Then you find out that a person who picks up a broom and moves it from one side of the hall to another - something so low-skilled that it is often given to individuals who are literally mentally retarded as a way to find them productive employment - makes, or wants to make, the same amount of money that you do. Without any of those opportunity costs that you or your family had to suffer, with a far lower bar.
    A lot of people responded to this, unsurprisingly, because it's idiotic. But aside from the points brought up, the reason Janitorial work pays well is because people don't want to do it. If it pays more then your job, and takes less skill then your job, then why don't you do it? That's right, because it's a shitty job. You have to pay a higher wage because otherwise people won't even do it.

    It's also, you know, harder work. Why is it surprising that you'd get paid less to sit on your ass and push paper around then actually use your body?

    'skill' is not the only thing that determines the market rate for a job. (and how skilled could you be if you don't know what 'opportunity cost' means?)
    posted by delmoi at 9:24 PM on May 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


    If being a janitor is such a great job with good pay, why aren't you doing it?
    posted by empath at 9:29 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


    If being a janitor is such a great job with good pay, why aren't you doing it?

    I knew a guy who did, same age as me, when I was in my 20s working at a local cable station. He would come in and do public access television shows, and always seemed to have lots of time for it. Eventually he told me he was a janitor at the local elementary school, and that it was a dream job for him, because he could work nights with nobody else around, and it paid well. He lived on his own, had a nice car, and really enjoyed what he did in his free time. Don't knock it.
    posted by davejay at 9:48 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


    If being a janitor is such a great job with good pay, why aren't you doing it?

    Well no, I personally think being a janitor is a shitty job with terrible pay, it does not pay as well as the work I currently do or even the work I don't want to do but have skills enough to do. I was, and this may be a shocker, trying to empathize with people I am not - which is what so many people are supposedly trying to do in this thread - except in this instance, I chose the people to empathize with that you and others would prefer not to.

    My issues with minimum wage are specifically with how it affects small business, the prices of goods, and weirdly, how it counterintuitively lowers chances for people to work. I think that with a low minimum wage or zero minimum wage, you have more people starting out working earlier - in their teens - at part time jobs for fairly low wages, but enough for pizza and movie ticket money and suchlike. This gives them both experience with work, an understanding that work is a necessary part of life if they want various luxuries, shortens the time they would otherwise spend in prolonged adolescence, and lets them experiment with what they actually want to do, by taking a low-wage job somewhere where they can see it. (The argument can be made that interns serve this purpose, but this is not true because interns have a lot of rules on what kind of work they can do)

    Instead, by assuming that no one can work at all unless the wage is enough to feed a family on, there is no motivation on the part of businesses to hire these younger workers, and they have severe employment gaps which only contribute to their inability to get work later in life.
    posted by corb at 7:39 AM on May 14, 2013


    There is something deeply fucked about a system where the minimum wage is so low (in relation to what it actually costs to live) that people who earn it can be eligible for public benefits.

    I'll re-quote a bit of what I quoted above, from Miko's link:

    Workers' wages, on the other hand, have fallen to their lowest-ever, as a share of the economy.

    Most workers are not employed by small business. Most small businesses have no payroll (that is, they are single-person enterprises).

    This is an interesting link. So is this.
    posted by rtha at 8:13 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


    enough for pizza and movie ticket money and suchlike.

    Those are middle-class luxuries. You assume a context in which teens do this work and use their wages for recreation because their basic needs are already met. That is not the case for the fast-food workforce and bascially it's impossible for it to be the case in the kinds of economies you espouse.

    42% of fast food workers are over 25.
    Teens are only 16% of the fast food workforce.
    More than 42% of fast food workers over 25 have some college education.
    More than 18% of all fast food workers over 25 have a bachelor's degree or higher.
    The median age of fast food workers is 28.


    by assuming that no one can work at all unless the wage is enough to feed a family on, there is no motivation on the part of businesses to hire these younger workers, and they have severe employment gaps which only contribute to their inability to get work later in life.

    Yeah, that's not being caused by minimum wage standards. It's being caused by a scarcity of employment for adults, because of policies like the ones you espouse that prize profit over all other forms of value, such as providing employment, thus driving corporations to seek lower employment costs whenever possible. It's caused by companies making entirely rational decisions they believe will lead to a better bottom line, by exploiting the desperation of those who do need to feed and support themselves and families.
    "With 284,000 college graduates making minimum wage and those with a high school education or less increasingly jobless, fast-food franchisees can be more judicious with their staffing decisions. The choice is now between inexperienced, flaky, distracted but fresh-faced teens or their parents who've been worn down by years of experience and humbled by the recent downturn.

    Not surprisingly, places like Wendy's (WEN +0.43%), Panera Bread (PNRA +1.08%) and Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG +1.76%) are increasingly opting for the docile and desperate latter."
    I continue to be surprised at your interest in advocating for economic systems that you understand so poorly.
    posted by Miko at 8:21 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


    42% of fast food workers are over 25.
    ...
    The median age of fast food workers is 28.


    These two things cannot be simultaneously true.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2013


    Hm, it's gotta be a case of different statistical pools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is widely cited as reporting 28 as the median age. The other stats come from the linked article.
    posted by Miko at 8:28 AM on May 14, 2013


    Yeah, that's not being caused by minimum wage standards. It's being caused by a scarcity of employment for adults

    Miko: I agree that all factors being the same, companies would prefer to hire adults than teens. What I'm arguing is that those factors all being the same is an artificial factor imposed by the minimum wage standards, rather than being a natural selection.

    If the choice is between an adult at $7 an hour and a teen at $5 an hour, for example, what will a company think is more valuable? I don't know that answer, and neither do you, because we have no way of finding out. I believe that there exists a price point which is high enough to lure teenagers into working, while still being low enough that an adult could not support themselves on it and thus would not choose to engage in it. Do you disagree, or is your issue primarily moral rather than economic?
    posted by corb at 8:28 AM on May 14, 2013


    I believe that there exists a price point which is high enough to lure teenagers into working, while still being low enough that an adult could not support themselves on it and thus would not choose to engage in it. Do you disagree, or is your issue primarily moral rather than economic?

    We are already at that price point, which is why these adult workers are so also eligible for and making use of public assistance.

    Also, teenagers (other than the privileged ones in your world of wishful thinking, who don't need to work) have expenses, and a "wage low enough" to "lure them into working" will not be sufficient for college savings, the gas or transit fare to get to work and school, decent clothes and shoes, dental visits, groceries, and the other things I, for one, purchased or contributed to as a teenager. Teen wages are often an important component of family income and I see no reason why their labor should be valued less because of a factor that places them in a special class, like their age.

    Anyway, why would we drop wages so as to attract youth while kicking their parents off employment rolls, presumably making them less able to support those very children, when we have no superior jobs to replace those fast food jobs with? Why would we privilege people with no experience whatsoever over adults accustomed to the workplace, who have built up the set of skills that do, in fact, pay off for employers? Why protect that class of employee with policy, as you suggest?

    What I'm arguing is that those factors all being the same is an artificial factor imposed by the minimum wage standards, rather than being a natural selection

    There's no "natural" economy. There is no economy in which there is not an operating environment defined by people to achieve certain ends. There never has been in the history of the world.

    The minimum wage standard may have interesting effects, but the argument against it is fairly pathetic when record profits are being logged by the corporations responsible for the bulk of minimum-wage-level employment.

    I don't know that answer, and neither do you, because we have no way of finding out.

    The way we are finding out is by the empirical evidence that they have edged out youth in being offered these jobs.
    posted by Miko at 8:36 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


    What I'm arguing is that those factors all being the same is an artificial factor imposed by the minimum wage standards, rather than being a natural selection.

    But you are still ignoring the fact that adequate labor for adults is scarce. I worked as a teen, and so did most of my friends, and there was a minimum wage even back in the dark ages of the 80s, and that's what we got paid. But we weren't competing (as much, anyway) with people who had already been in the workforce for years and had college educations, to boot. And we worked maybe 15 hours a week or so. It was pocket money, not, you know, life-support money. (And movie tickets didn't cost $15 then, either.)

    If the choice is between an adult at $7 an hour and a teen at $5 an hour, for example, what will a company think is more valuable? I don't know that answer, and neither do you, because we have no way of finding out.

    My first real (i.e. non-babysitting) job was when I was 13 or 14; it was about 10 hours a week of filing for the office of a summer day camp. I could - and was - legally paid a lower minimum wage because I was not yet 16. I don't know if this is still a thing, but it was back then. Did the office choose to hire me because they could pay me less than the minimum for someone older? At least in part, sure. But it was also 10 hours a week. My competition for the job was not an adult with experience and education; it was other young teens like me.
    posted by rtha at 8:41 AM on May 14, 2013


    I have employed teens under that "work papers" situation, and in fact those job descriptions had to be specially designed for and dedicated to properly documented youth employees only , had to fit within strict boundaries for tasks and length of time worked, had to be carefully reported and were not the same jobs to be offered to adults. At least in my state. You literally could not allow adults to compete for those jobs, they were designed and incentivized by youth employment programs.
    posted by Miko at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Corb, perhaps we should eliminate child labor laws so that those 14 year olds could have relevant work experience as they enter the work-force. God knows the American textile industry could use a steady supply of 8 or 9 year old seamstresses like the good old days.
    posted by empath at 12:05 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Corb, perhaps we should eliminate child labor laws so that those 14 year olds could have relevant work experience as they enter the work-force. God knows the American textile industry could use a steady supply of 8 or 9 year old seamstresses like the good old days.

    If we're going by some of the arguments above, it won't matter if we eliminate all child labor laws, because companies far prefer to hire adults anyway. Which is it? Do they prefer children or not?
    posted by corb at 12:22 PM on May 14, 2013


    corb: " Miko: I agree that all factors being the same, companies would prefer to hire adults than teens. What I'm arguing is that those factors all being the same is an artificial factor imposed by the minimum wage standards, rather than being a natural selection."

    We already tried that. At a certain point in any economy, workers will demand more, minimum wage laws, workplace safety, disability, etc. The only way to get rid of what we've gained is to give up what we've worked to achieve, that is a minimum standard. Lowering the standard doesn't improve the standard of living for anyone except the business owners, but it increases poverty.
    posted by krinklyfig at 12:38 PM on May 14, 2013


    Today they'd probably mostly hire adults, because the labor pool is that slack and adults make better employees. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the labor market was tight enough that companies actually did hire children despite the fact that they don't really make good employees.

    But the idea of rolling back child labor laws because there's not really a demand for child laborers is stupid, and I don't think you're arguing in good faith by advancing that.

    Also there are people who would doubtless hire children if it were legal because they'd be easier to prey on and intimidate than adults, and for various other creepy reasons that I'm sure you can imagine. Those reasons aren't economically rational, but they're as fine a motivation as any for keeping child-labor laws on the books even the absence of a labor market so tight that it's willing to hire children.
    posted by Kadin2048 at 12:40 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


    corb: "Do they prefer children or not?"

    Manufacturers in large part do prefer to pay the least possible for their labor while meeting specs. They can and do hire children in the form of offshore manufacturing in the developing world. So, clearly they do prefer to hire children when it benefits them, as long as it's legal to do so where the manufacturing exists, and their practices are mostly kept secret from the public to whom they market those products.
    posted by krinklyfig at 12:46 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


    But the idea of rolling back child labor laws because there's not really a demand for child laborers is stupid, and I don't think you're arguing in good faith by advancing that.

    No, you're right, I'm getting frustrated and I probably should step away for a while. I just find it really strange that the very idea that people might prefer to hire the cheapest possible labor, thus the people willing to accept the least for their labor is controversial.
    posted by corb at 1:08 PM on May 14, 2013


    Also, the amount of unnecessary snark.
    posted by corb at 1:09 PM on May 14, 2013


    In the late 19th and early 20th century, the labor market was tight enough that companies actually did hire children despite the fact that they don't really make good employees.

    Plus, there was no minimum wage, so employers could literally pay them pennies.

    I just find it really strange that the very idea that people might prefer to hire the cheapest possible labor, thus the people willing to accept the least for their labor is controversial.

    I can't quite parse the grammar of that full sentence, but of course it's controversial. That's because if you continue to pursue the cheapest possible labor, in the absence of any other values placed on employment, and in the context of people desparate to be fed, housed, and clothed, the bottom you will eventually hit is slavery.
    posted by Miko at 1:47 PM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


    For grammar clarification, Miko: I feel like you in particular have been saying that there is no situation in the current economy in which child/teen labor would be cheaper than adult labor, (and thus employers would prefer to hire children/teens), whereas I think that the idea that employers, on the whole, prefer to hire cheaper workers who ask for less benefits is a generally accepted one. Not that the idea of whether or not it is moral to do so is uncontroversial, but that the fact is, or should be, uncontroversial.
    posted by corb at 2:10 PM on May 14, 2013


    Corb, I'm not sure if I understand what you're saying, but in Australia at least, the relatively higher minimum wage does come with a caveat that deals with the concerns you raise about teenagers working - the minimum wage scales linearly with age between 16 and 20 - you start at roughly 50% of minimum wage at 16, and end up with 100% of minimum wage at 20. Apprenticeships have a similar rule, where you start at 66% of minimum wage at your first year of apprenticeship and end up at 100% of minimum wage by your third year.

    Your assumption is right, in that companies do prefer to hire younger workers: I was told that by the supervisors at the supermarket I worked in. But what happens is that the "young" people you hire grow up and have to be paid full minimum wage anyway, and given the choice between a revolving door of inexperienced 18 year old staff you pay 75% wage for versus keeping an employee with several years experience at 100% wage, the choice isn't very clear. Obviously it makes it harder for a 20 year old with zero experience to get hired versus a 16 year old with zero experience, but then this is the whole point of the system - lower wages for younger people in order for them to get work experience in the first place.
    posted by xdvesper at 4:14 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I think that with a low minimum wage or zero minimum wage, you have more people starting out working earlier - in their teens - at part time jobs for fairly low wages, but enough for pizza and movie ticket money and suchlike. This gives them both experience with work, an understanding that work is a necessary part of life if they want various luxuries
    Our economic policy should not be geared toward building character in teenagers. The people working in fast food these days are not teens, they're adults, many of them parents with families trying they are trying to support. If having a living wage means teens can't get jobs to pay for pizza, too bad. They can eat frozen pizza and watch torrents off the piratebay.
    If the choice is between an adult at $7 an hour and a teen at $5 an hour, for example, what will a company think is more valuable? I don't know that answer, and neither do you, because we have no way of finding out.
    If minimum wage is $5, they will hire the adult and pay them $5. Duh.

    And what happens to teens in poor families who might want to actually help out and pay the families bills? They can just go fuck themselves?

    The purpose of work is to pay for the stuff you need to live, and if you're lucky more stuff on top of that. If a teen is being paid less then their actual living expenses, it's actually just taking advantage of a huge unpriced externality (the living expenses of their employees), and they are basically just stealing money from the teen's parents.
    I just find it really strange that the very idea that people might prefer to hire the cheapest possible labor, thus the people willing to accept the least for their labor is controversial.
    The fact that it's illegal didn't indicate it would be controversial?
    I feel like you in particular have been saying that there is no situation in the current economy in which child/teen labor would be cheaper than adult labor
    With a zero minimum wage I'm sure they could find jobs for people that pay very little, and thus child workers would be needed to fill all the positions. But the question is whether or not paying adults such a low wage would be beneficial for society. If the minimum wage were lowered, it could result in lots of people actually losing income, which would mean catastrophe for adults and families living paycheck to paycheck. It could mean far less money flowing to "the poor" overall.

    Even ignoring morality, it would mean more spending on things like food stamps, Medicare, and other poverty amelioration programs - essentially the government would be subsidizing employers by paying to support the employees they're not paying enough to support themselves (and frankly this is already happening to a large degree)
    posted by delmoi at 1:32 AM on May 15, 2013


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