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Striking fast food workers hold signs saying
These people are struggling to get by on poverty wages, yes. But they're also fighting for change.
You ever notice how coverage of low-wage workers tends to focus less on their efforts to change things than on the details of their poverty? Sarah Jaffe weighs in at the Washington Post with an incisive piece about that phenomenon:
It’s a particular kind of emotional labor that we ask of these workers. In addition to the strength and courage to tell the boss, to his face, that you’re walking out because you’re sick of how you’re being treated, we demand that you perform the role of the poor person for us, and we squabble over the right things to do for you. Our discourse on poverty is fed by stories of misery; it gorges itself on tales of cracked ceilings and no heat and feeding the family on a few dollars a week. But this is just another way that the poor must prove themselves “deserving” and for the better-off to feel righteous for helping them. [...]

Rebuilding the social safety net is a good start, but something more powerful would be a real understanding that we’re all in this together.

I heard that understanding in the voice of Alex Shalom, another low-wage worker who stood up for himself and his co-workers against his boss — this time, his boss at Bank of America. “I think people need to know that tellers are just cashiers with ties on,” Shalom told me, placing himself squarely in the same movement as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart workers.

And more:
  • Just to highlight that there's a gender wage gap everywhere, male babysitters charge more than female ones even though there are hardly any male babysitters.
  • So Target has this awful anti-union video that its employees have to watch, and I keep trying to write about it and then starting to hyperventilate. A book could be written on it, basically. Here's part of what Hamilton Nolan had to say:
    The video drones on for 15 minutes, as Dawn and Ricardo plod through various dire consequences of unionization. "You could come into work one day to find union protesters telling our guests not to shop at Target," Dawn says. "And how could that possibly be good for anyone on our team?"

    I dunno... higher wages and better benefits and improved working conditions? Notably absent from this video is any discussion of the fact that the primary reason Target does not want any of its employees to unionize is not because it fears a loss of its precious "culture," but because it fears having to pay higher wages and provide better benefits and working conditions. I don't know how that bit was left out of the script. Quite an oversight.

  • What's It Like To Raise 3 Kids On $9.49 Per Hour? Watch And See.
  • J.C. Penney fired a worker for telling the truth about its fake "discounts." Even though their fakeness is a pretty open secret.
  • As the financial industry moves to limit the hours its junior employees work so that they don't, like, die, Sarah Leonard explains what's behind this culture of overwork:
    ... these hellish on-call conditions do not exist because Wall Street’s work is so vital. They exist because financiers sustain their untouchable status by insisting that their work is vital and that they're the only ones who can do it, that the world might stop turning if they took time to eat, sleep or call their mothers. Long hours are a source of self-worth for banking employees, and that’s one reason why bankers themselves are set to resist the new policies. Wall Street's "masters of the universe" believe that they are, and employ, the smartest and hardest-working people on earth (thus the hauteur with which they address regulators and Senate committees).

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ten years ago I wasn't a low wage worker (6+ / 0-)

    I make the same now as I did then. Now I'm low wage.

    If knowledge is power and power corrupts, does that mean that knowledge corrupts?

    by AoT on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 03:30:11 PM PDT

  •  Just once I want a story of a single (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, Whatithink

    woman or man without children and not married to be the showcase of how they cannot make ends meet.  It is a no-brainer that a uneducated mom with three kids can't make it without gov't assistance.  An obvious way into poverty is to birth your way there.  No, she didn't plan on raising three kids on her own...but she is uneducated and having three kids was in and of itself very bad planning.  That showcases what happens with bad sex education programs in our schools.

    But the people need to see how even a single healthy young person cannot make ends meet at minimum wage.  America needs to see how there aren't any reasons why that person should be in poverty working so hard, even with multiple jobs.  There aren't enough hours in the day to work a minimum wage job, mostly with no time off and no benefits, to be able to break even after the essential bills are paid.

    An more clear cut example of how the system is the failure and not the person is needed to be more persuasive in the general public.

    1. What does it mean? 2. And then what?

    by alwaysquestion on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 03:58:21 PM PDT

    •  Ok, a few points... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alwaysquestion, Odysseus, swampyankee

      The woman in the HBO special is a CNA, she's not 'uneducated'. It's usually a 6 month program, but it's still school with a certification. She was married for 10 years, during which time they had 3 kids, they separated because he got addicted to pain pills and nearly bankrupted them, which is why no house, and she didn't finish college (which she's trying to do now). So now she's a single mom of 3. So she's not the 'failure' here, the system is, and maybe her ex-husband.

      Yes, it's very hard on single people who work for minimum wage. Doing it with 3 kids in the middle of a divorce is even more of a challenge. I've done both, though with 1 not 3 kids.

      "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

      by FloridaSNMOM on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 04:38:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  When arguing anything, one (0+ / 0-)

        always wishes to overcome objections, but the better argument to enter into is one that has no objections.  Nothing to point to except to say the system needs to be changed.  That is my point.

        I would not even begin to try and argue that she is educated to any degree as that now becomes the sticking point and the minimum wage argument gets lost.

        What I am saying is that even in the best case senario, minimum wage needs a raise so people can at least survive with the essentials.  I would not use that mom with three kids as the best case senario to argue with, however sorry I felt for her, and I do.

        1. What does it mean? 2. And then what?

        by alwaysquestion on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 05:15:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I just get tired of people blaming (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          alwaysquestion

          single parents for being single parents, like it's always bad choices on their part. Sometimes it isn't. I'm actually watching the documentary, so I know what's going on, and what she's been through.
          I was also a CNA for 6 years before I had kids, I know what kind of work it is and what the education requirements are. Actually she had been going to school for her LPN, but she was diagnosed with Graves disease and missed too many days of school due to that. So she's actually a pretty darn good case to argue with.

          There IS no best case scenario for someone who's working minimum wage, unless their 16 and don't really need the job financially.

          "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

          by FloridaSNMOM on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 05:20:56 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  How did this bit of corporate propganda (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alwaysquestion, BusyinCA

      Get a rec?

       "An obvious way into poverty is to birth your way there.  No, she didn't plan on raising three kids on her own...but she is uneducated and having three kids was in and of itself very bad planning."

      •  I understand your feelings here. (0+ / 0-)

        We live in a different world than our parents.  Gone are the days that everyone had six kids and the wages supported that and the school systems provided so that anyone could walk in the doors without an armload of supplies.  These days, it is very expensive to raise a kid.  I know, I have one.  Family planning and sex education is a major point of difference in the two parties.  Students today need to be fully educated on what it takes to raise a kid in today's world.

        The truth of the matter is that there is no easier or more permanent way to fall into poverty than to birth your way there.  I support the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to provide birth control education in many third world nations to lift those women out of the crushing poverty they fall into when having multiple children.  The same is true in this nation.  I am a woman.  I support educating women (and men) on what is involved in having children and what limiting the number of children can do to help the family succeed.

        By the way, I do not think corporations are for birth control...I believe they want more workers to fight over a few jobs so they can pay less and less in wages.

        Again, I will say that when making an argument, using the example that offers the least amount of objections keeps the focus on the minimum wage and not the workers.

        1. What does it mean? 2. And then what?

        by alwaysquestion on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 05:30:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Seriously? "birth your way into poverty" (3+ / 0-)

    "An obvious way into poverty is to birth your way there.  No, she didn't plan on raising three kids on her own...but she is uneducated and having three kids was in and of itself very bad planning.

    Or, she passed on a career or post-secondary education to care for her kids and her husband who subsequently left her, died, or had an accident leaving him incapable of being a provider.

    The reason that single, childless, adults are never featured is that it's assumed they have more options. They can move. They can go back to school. Lack of child care is not an obstacle. That may not be accurate, but that's the reason.

    •  Even single, childless healthy adults (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BusyinCA

      can't make ends meet on a minimum wage job.  Moving takes money.  School takes money and no, Romney, very few can borrow that from the parents.

      The point I am trying to make is this:  to make an argument clear to the public, give them a clear cut case they cannot argue with.  Show them that even under the best possible circumstances, the current system of minimum wage fails especially with no insurance benefits offered by the employer, but even with those benefits offered.

      You make my point for me....you defend all the reasons why this has happened to her and a republican will point to personal responsibility and the argument is now about the woman and not the system.  I want an example to point to that is "blameless" so the argument shows that it can happen to anyone, even a republican's kid.

      I am not saying the woman does not deserve help.  Good grief, it is clear she needs plenty.  I am saying she is not the example I would use to make the point of needing more pay.

      1. What does it mean? 2. And then what?

      by alwaysquestion on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 04:45:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's never enough (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FloridaSNMOM, alwaysquestion

        If a healthy, able-bodied, single, childless adult can't make a living on the minimum wage, the rejoinder is simple:

        "get another job, slacker"
        "why don't they have a roommate?"
        "do they really need a car?"
        "They spent money on X, obviously they aren't destitute"
        "Do they have a TV, how about a cellphone?"

        The "free-market" logic inexorably drives the labor market to the most work for the least money that is consistent with keeping body and soul uncomfortably together in just enough of the population that labor does not become scarcer.  

        Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

        by benamery21 on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 05:36:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree there are those (0+ / 0-)

          who would not give up the argument but I have not run into that many.  I live in Oakland County, MI and mostly people can understand that working full time with another part-time job is too much to just break even with that worker being one accident away from total broke.

          I am living the "free market" example right now where more work is required for the same money, making long hours in a day.  I feel for the people doing hard labor and asked to do even more, for less, with delayed social security on the table at every turn.

          1. What does it mean? 2. And then what?

          by alwaysquestion on Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 06:04:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  the money purchases less/now (0+ / 0-)

    decent wages don't eliminate jobs. Republicans eliminate jobs; and workers, and prospects, and then excuse it all and call for more austerity. there is no end to their ignorant, arrogant avarice. only political dinosaurs support their treachery.

    by renzo capetti on Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 12:42:06 PM PDT

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