House maid ironing a lace doily with GE electric iron circa 1908.
Are fast food workers the outsourced servants of today? David Cay Johnston argues that they are—and that they're worse off than the servants of 100 years ago. Take the fast food worker of 2013 and the family cook of 1913. On paper, today's full-time fast food worker earns a little more than the standard 1913 wage. But:
  • The 1910 cook earned tax-free pay, while 2013 cook pays 7.65 percent of his income in Social Security taxes as well as income taxes on more than a third of his pay, assuming full-time work every week of the year. For a single person, that’s about $29 of that $55 raise deducted for taxes.
  • Unless he can walk to work, today’s outsourced family cook must cover commuting costs. A monthly transit pass costs $75 in Los Angeles, $95 in Atlanta and $122 in New York City, so bus fare alone runs $17 to $25 a week, eating up a third to almost half of the seeming increase in pay, making the apparent raise pretty much vanish.
  • The 1910 cook got room and board, while the 2013 cook must provide his own living space and food.
Not to mention, fast food restaurants are filled with part-time workers. Of course, there's a lot to be said for not living with your boss, cheap though it may be, and other aspects of low-wage workers' lives have likely improved as well (I'm looking at you, Jim Crow laws). But the fact that low wage, effectively domestic workers are making barely more than they were when their pay didn't have to cover rent or commuting—barely more than servants made in what we now think of as the bad old days of no labor protections—is a striking sign of how fully McDonald's and Walmart and other low-wage employers have succeeded in driving down wages and taking America back in time.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 07:37 AM PST.

Also republished by Hellraisers Journal and Daily Kos.

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