If you’re stuck working minimum wage jobs like I am, you know what everyone else who earns the lowest pay allowed by law knows: You can’t live on minimum wage, certainly not on the part-time hours employers give.
That’s why it’s heartening to see fast food workers across the nation going on strike to demand better pay. I pull in $8.30 an hour at around twenty hours a week. I can’t afford even the cheapest of apartments on that. As a single white male with no dependents, I am ineligible for most public assistance, including welfare, housing assistance, and medical assistance (Medicaid). I get a pittance in food stamps every month, but it’s not enough to keep me fed on a regular basis. I’m lucky if I can eat once a day.
My entire paycheck is spent paying bills before I even get it deposited to my bank account, which is typically at or near empty. That is the reality for me and for everyone else who works a minimum wage job.
Some stupid motherfucker was posting on a friend’s Facebook page yesterday about how unfair it would be if fast food workers got an increase in wages to earn the same amount as he does in his construction job, because he doesn’t expect that an increase in the minimum wage would necessarily bring an increase in his own pay. According to him, we minimum wage monkeys don’t do any real labor, and therefore don’t deserve to make anywhere near the same amount of money as someone whose job involves backbreaking physical labor. This same stupid asshole thinks that we can get higher paying jobs if we wanted to, and that we don’t want to. Bullshit. If I could get a job working construction, I’d be working it right now. I’ve applied for those jobs and they haven’t even granted so much as one interview. Most require that I have my own transportation, which I can’t afford because I don’t make enough to afford my own vehicle. Those that don’t haven’t deigned to give me an interview either.
I can tell you right now that this ignoramus wouldn’t last even one full shift working at McDonald’s. He couldn’t keep up with the fast pace, and he certainly couldn’t deal with impatient, often angry customers, standing on his feet for eight hours or more. I’ve done that and it’s exhausting. My back is still screwed up from nearly three years of bending over a work table marinating, trussing, and spitting chicken carcasses for roasting, and I left that job in 2005 — eight years ago. These days I grind lenses for an eyewear company for barely above my state’s minimum wage. I have to clock out for lunch if I work over six hours, costing me a half hour’s pay, because the corporation for which I work doesn’t want to pay me for a shift that’s long enough to necessitate taking a few minutes to restore my energy levels.
News articles about the fast food strike state that the demand for fifteen dollars per hour would raise pay for full-time workers to thirty-one thousand annually, more than double the current annual average of fifteen thousand. Some, however, quote workers pointing out that most minimum wage jobs don’t provide full time hours. They allow twenty or under, meaning someone like me might make $7,500 a year or less, and very often it’s a lot less.
In an article on NBC Washington, it’s revealed that financial woes actually have a negative impact on a person’s IQ. That is, the sheer stress of not being able to afford even the basics, like adequate food and drink, is literally making people dumber. Starvation wages lead to actual starvation, so the body can’t get the nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy brain. Financial worries force people to devote more of their mental power to worrying over how they’ll afford to live, leaving much less time and energy for other matters.
Who the hell can live on the current minimum wage? No one, not without public assistance, which is already slashed to the bone with Republicans and Democrats cutting the social safety net even further. Many of us are either homeless or soon shall be (myself included). No one is out there advocating for us. No one is doing a damned thing to lighten our financial burden. The vast majority of our tax dollars (yes, we poor folk do pay taxes) go to fund wars and Wall Street, with things like education, housing, food, and Social Security getting less and less. Yet we’re told by ignorant assholes to “suck it up”, stop asking for “handouts”, to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make do or die. If we could do that on what we get paid, we would. But we can’t, and even though we work and pay taxes (unlike the obscenely rich), we aren’t allowed to have a say in how our tax dollars are spent.
So what’s to be done? Well, I don’t know about you, but I for one have no intention of crossing any picket lines, and neither should you. Don’t let striking fast food workers do this all by themselves. Support them in whatever way you can. Join them, in fact. If you know in your heart that everyone has the right to work “a useful and remunerative job” that pays enough to live on, then join them in solidarity and demand an increase in the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour. Call and write members of Congress in both houses, call and write the White House, march on Washington in the millions and shut the place down, join striking workers on the picket line, donate whatever money and food you can afford to help people who are starving.
This country and this planet are going to hell in a hand basket, but only if We the people let them. Don’t let them.