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Pennies to Rub Together: An Argument for Raising the Minimum Wage


When companies become obsessed with maximizing profits, and view workers and their
compensation as an obstacle to that goal, the employees of those companies find themselves
struggling to live on a minimum wage salary. To many, the idea of surviving on eight dollars per
hour is an idea viewed at arms length; but to many more, it is a bleak reality. This is the case for
the millions who earn a meager wage in the fast food industry. Their quality of life suffers due to
their low earnings; furthermore, the high prices these employees pay often becomes anothers
responsibility to bear. The minimum wage needs to be raised in order to alleviate the financial
strain on both the workers themselves and on government assistance programs, which are forced
to provide necessities when a minimum wage fails to do so.
In his book Fast Food Nation, journalist Eric Schlosser offers readers a glimpse into the
everyday life of a fast food worker. He tells the story of Elisa Zamot, a sixteen-year-old girl who
works at McDonalds to help support her family. The minutia of her day is highlighted, ending
with a description of her coming home from work wiped outand the next morning she gets up
at 5:15 again and starts the same routine (chapter 3). Elisa, he explains, is just one of millions of
teenagers who are employed in fast food restaurants. This is not done by accident or by
coincidence; Schlosser argues that fast food corporations prefer to hire teenagers over adults
because teens are more passive about being part-time, unskilled workers whoaccept low pay
(chapter 3). In addition, their youthful inexperience makes them easier to control (Schlosser
chapter 3). The repetitive, low-skill tasks required of a fast food worker are better suited for
teenagers because they are more willing to perform them without question or refusal. These tasks
are also easy to teach and easy to learn, which makes workers easily replaceable. Describing this

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process, Schlosser quotes sociologist Robin Leidner, who claims that fast food jobs no longer
depend upon the talents or skills of [their] workersjobs that have be de-skilled can be filled
cheaply. The need to retain any individual worker is greatly reduced by the ease with which he or
she can be replaced (chapter 3).
When an employee is easily replaced, the incentive to pay them well vanishes. Because of
the low skill requirements of the job, employees are poorly compensated for their work. While few
workers accept a job at a fast food restaurant thinking it will be anything more than a job soon
left behind for better things (Schlosser chapter 3), the reality of surviving on a fast food salary can
hit hard. In her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America, journalist Barbara
Ehrenreich describes her experiences from when she went undercover as a minimum-wage worker.
At the start of her experiment she sat down and made a list of her potential earnings versus her
living expenses, and quickly saw the disconnect that exists between the two. According to her, if I
earn $7 an hourI can afford to spend $500 on rent. In the Key West area, this pretty much
confines me to flophouses and trailer homes like the one, a pleasing fifteen-minute drive from
town, that has no air-conditioning, no screens, no fans, no television (12). Even in her best-case
scenario, the outlook for ones quality of life on minimum wage looks dreary. Her conversations
with coworkers at the jobs she performs jobs that include waitressing, housecleaning, and folding
clothes at Wal-Mart are also illuminating. One coworker, she remembers, expressed a wish to be
able to take a day off now and then, if I had to, and still be able to buy groceries the next day
(119). The minimum wage as it currently stands is so low that it affects the everyday decision
making of employees, forcing them to choose between creature comforts and bare necessities.

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One of the prevailing myths surrounding poverty is that, without exception, the way out of
it is to get a job any job. In the ending summary of her book, Barbara Ehrenreich illustrates this
thought process by describing the rhetorical buildup to welfare reform, [in which] it was
uniformly assumed that a job was the ticket out of poverty and the only thing holding back welfare
recipients was their reluctance to get out and get one (196). The argument she describes is one
that still persists today: poverty is always borne of laziness or a lack of ambition, and if someone is
poor they have only themselves to blame for their predicament. Ehrenreichs experiences showcase
that in many cases, hard work alone cant be counted as a factor in ones prosperity or in their
poverty; her coworkers worked long, difficult hours at their myriad jobs yet could barely make ends
meet. Reviewing itemized lists of her earnings versus the living expenses she incurred, she
concluded, the problem goes beyondpersonal failings and miscalculations. Something is wrong,
very wrong, when a single person in good healthcan barely support herself by the sweat of her
brow (199). As Ehrenreichs experiences exemplify, the minimum wage alone is not enough for a
person to live on.
When a minimum wage fails to supply workers with necessities such as food and housing,
government assistance such as food stamps and housing subsidies are required to make up the
difference. In a sense, American taxpayers subsidize the success of fast food corporations by
relieving them of the responsibility to pay their workers fairly. In an interview with a KFC
employee struggling to support a family with her $260-a-week paychecks, it is stated fifty-two
percent of front-line fast-food workers rely on some sort of public assistancein total, they
calculate these benefits cost taxpayers nearly $7 billion a year (Shreenivsan). Tom Philpotts article
on McDonalds and its low wages makes similar claims, stating that 86 percent of the 20 million

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people who work within the food chainbring home less than a living wage. Food-system workers
are 50 percent more likely to rely on food stamp benefits than the overall working population.
Many argue against a raise of the minimum wage because of a prevalent fear of layoffs and
hour reductions. Those who disagree with raising the minimum wage believe that ultimately, an
increase in the hourly wage rate would hurt workers because their employers would compensate
for lost profit by either scaling back employee hours, or simply firing employees. This, however, is a
logical fallacy known as the appeal to probability: that is, mistaking the existence of a possibility for a
surefire sign that the possibility will happen. According to an article by Evan Soltas for Bloomberg,
the problem with this argument is that it proceeds in almost complete ignorance of empirical
analyses that find small, if any, impacts of the minimum wage on employment[studies
conducted] find no employment impactsbecause labor is a complex market. There is not a single
market for labor, nor is labor a single, undifferentiated commodityall this means that the labor
market does not quite respond to the minimum wage in the way [others] have argued it does. In
other words, those who support keeping the minimum wage at its current level are focusing their
platform on an argument that can be easily refuted with studies and statistics.
As it currently stands, the minimum wage supplies misery and poverty for millions and
provides benefits to only a few. It is a smokescreen employers can crouch behind in order to make
their employment practices seem fair; if they pay their employees the absolute lowest they can get
away with, their unconscionable practices can be excused and considered legal. The minimum
wage is not as high as it should be, as evidenced by the struggle employees face in making a living
on their pittance salaries. In turn, the minimum wage is costly to taxpayers who are expected to
subsidize the expenses a minimum wage cannot. As such, raising the minimum wage would ease

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the strain currently placed upon the employees of massive corporations, and the society in which
they live.

Works Cited
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America. Kindle file. Print.
Philpott, Tom. McDonalds To Employees: Get a (Second) Job. Mother Jones. Web.
Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal. Kindle file. Print.
Shreenivsan, Hari. One NYC Familys Struggle to Survive on a Fast Food Salary. PBS
Newshour. Web.
Soltas, Evan. Two Reasons Not to Raise the Minimum Wage. Bloomberg. Web.