The fast food strikes across the country aren’t causing nearly as much conversation as they should be. Everyone was on the Occupy Wall Street bandwagon – where are all of those voices of support now? Why are people so ambivalent toward the low pay at places like McDonald’s and Burger King?
Because you don’t want the fry cook to make as much money as you do.
You did everything the “right” way. You finished high school and got your degree. You did unpaid internships and worked a part-time job to make ends meet. Now you’ve gotten an entry-level position in your white-collar field making $30,000 to start. You’re working 50-60 hour weeks under a boss you hate hoping a better job will come along and doing your best at this one so someone will take notice and give you a raise or a promotion. You did everything “right.”
So why should the single mother with a GED taking your money at McDonald’s make $15 an hour? She didn’t go to college. She didn’t pay her dues at internships. She doesn’t have a mountain of student debt as her reward for getting a magical piece of paper that opens doors to a job interview. Why should she get paid as much money as you do?
That’s the hurdle the minimum wage battle is facing. The way we pay our workers is a direct reflection on how we value people in those positions. We pay doctors truckloads of money because they save lives. We respect them. They went to school for a decade and we reward them for it. We pay construction workers a fraction of that because they just pour cement and swing hammers. They didn’t go to school for years and years so their contribution to society matters less and we pay them accordingly. Nevermind the fact that those doctors can’t do their jobs without buildings to house their practice, we put construction workers ten rungs below them.
We give lip-service to supporting a minimum wage hike, but we don’t put nearly as much effort into doing something about it. What happens to your own sense of worth in this capitalist society when the guy at Taco Bell is in the same income bracket you are? Whatever your employment complaints, you can always say “well…at least I’m not making minimum wage at KFC” but that pep talk is taken away if the minimum wage makes its way to livable standard.
So we sit back and watch the protests on television and read about the strikes on the Internet but we’re not moved to take action. It’s not a conscious decision – it’s just a byproduct of being brought up in our competitive American marketplace. Hit the books! Get a degree! Work hard! Achieve the American Dream!
Unfortunately, the American Dream is moving further and further out of reach, not just for the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, but for those who also did everything “right.” The “right” way kids are now having to settle for what should have been the minimum all along and a new bottom of the heap has to be forged to separate the two. With any luck, these strikes could be the beginning of a real in-depth conversation about income inequality in this country. The top of the ladder can be brought closer to the bottom, but only if we all take up the cause. Don’t avoid the fast food worker’s plight because you’re afraid of your own social status. Step up and support your neighbors so that our kids might actually have a shot at that American Dream we were brought up to believe in.