Minimum Wage for Minimum Skills
Or, the American Dream Gone Wrong
Hello, Medium. I was wondering when I would be able to muster up the courage to finally make that daunting first post until I came across this rather… colorful rant that was shared on my Facebook NewsFeed this evening. As Jennifer Harris so kindly shared her opinions to the public, I have a few thoughts in response to her post as well. I criticize not the woman behind the post, but the prejudice that she so proudly upholds. Here’s why:
Firstly, Harris asserts that minimum waged workers of fast food chains are in no position to demand for the new base pay of $15 because they are unskilled and unmotivated to pursue a more worthwhile employment. Beside the condescending and, quite frankly, disrespectful nature of this post, it is incredibly ignorant of Harris or anyone else to assume that 1) everyone who is paid minimum wage is flipping burgers and doing nothing mentally or physically taxing and/or that 2) they did not try to look for an alternative before having to settle for such low-paying jobs. All over the country, there are countless of situations in which people who went to institutions of higher education, got the required degree, and were still unable to find a job that pay above minimum wage post-graduation. Before making such a blanket statement, it is important to note that many of the people stuck in such a position are incapable of escaping, not because they lack the will or the skills to do so, but because they are placed at an institutional disadvantage based on their race, gender, sexuality, and/or S.E.S backgrounds, etc., in the current market system. It takes more than mere will and self-motivation to overcome systemic oppression and institutionalized discrimination.
Additionally, with unemployment rearing its ugly head just around the corner, do you think those people stuck at those jobs dare to demand for better employment at the risk of losing their current jobs and livelihoods, no matter how low quality they may be, when they cannot even ask for a higher minimum wage rate without being condescended upon by people like Harris? And there are quite a few of those around, I assure you. But let’s just say that there are those who would willingly take that risk. What is the likeliest situation they would find themselves in? Those same people would still have to depend on such low waged jobs to get them through school with no guarantee of actually finding better jobs after graduation. In that case, minimum wage would not be the result of minimum skills, but rather the all too common consequence of minimum opportunities for those who have to fight tooth and nail to get on the same playing field with everyone else only to find that while their skills may be equal, their footings are not.
Furthermore, the argument for raising the minimum wage is not merely to give fast food workers higher wages, but to raise the wages of everybody, regardless of the industry in which they are employed, so that they may meet the standards of living that this country has already set for them. This includes the very same soldiers referenced in Harris’s post. Perhaps it is not that minimum waged workers should be paid less, but that those very same soldiers who put their lives on the line for everyone else this country deserve so much more than they are compensated. It is important to remember that veterans are some of the people who suffer the most in the job sector. As many join the armed forces at a young age, most right out of high school, they are the very same people who oftentimes face the greatest difficulties in obtaining stable jobs and secure lifestyles upon their return from service. Paid as little as they are and without college degrees to fall back on, many veterans are left to choose between minimum-waged jobs or unemployment. Homelessness among veterans is not an uncommon problem either. Thus, rather than holding onto harmful prejudices and arguing that fast food workers deserve less than what has been quantified as livable wages, argue for all workers to be paid livable wages. At the very least, all full-time employees should be able to meet the national standard of living with their wages based on this nation’s economy.
Reading a post like this not only angers and saddens me, but it also disappoints me to see such prejudiced views be so widely propagated. It is so easy for those with plenty to look down on and hand criticisms to those with little to none. But when the rags-to-riches motif is held to such high standards in our nation’s narrative of self-achievement, it is no wonder, though, that such thoughts are so prevalent among its citizens. Ah, the great American Dream of yore. Yet, this is not merely a matter of an achievement gap, but rather a larger issue of the opportunity gap, whether we are talking about education or employment. I can only hope that Jennifer Harris, and others who share her views, will one day see that no American is worth more than another, that no American deserves more than another. We are worth as much as we deem another, we all deserve the best that this country has got to offer, and, therefore, we all have a duty to correct its wrongs. No matter how long ago in the past the wounds were inflicted, the scars still linger.