It’s that time of year again. I went to the Publix at lunch and feared for my life—retirees who can’t see, backing up cars bigger than hearses. Also, there were five cars in line at the Starbucks drive-through, so I didn’t have time to get a latte. I ran into the grocery store and some guy in an SUV almost ran me over on my way in.
Fortunately, they had every check-out lane open, although the cashier seemed offended that I was interrupting his conversation with the bagger to pay for my food. I feel like in other places, these jobs—cashier, grocery bagger—are filled by teenagers, but here they are just as likely to be retirees, or just adults, and these are their final, dead-end, low-paying jobs. I never really thought about it, but now that I have, it’s depressed me. I was there, once—when the economy tanked and the best job I could get was a receptionist at a title company for $11/hour, this with a master’s degree and a professional certification. My paychecks were so small it felt like an insult, as if they had included a small note with each, reading: You suck.
All the same, I don’t know how I feel about fast-food workers, striking for $15/hour. If you had wanted to make more money, shouldn’t you have—I don’t know—gotten an education, pursued a career, and not taken a job that involved a polyester uniform and hot grease? Does this make me naïve, or a conservative? (if I’m not, to paraphrase Mark Twain, repeating myself). I’m not against a living wage—well, maybe I am. I’d rather we all decided—collectively, in a show of national unity and good will—that no American should live in a slum. Slums should not exist! Even with the exclamation point. And then we did something about that, rather than forcing McDonald’s to pay $15/hour for employees to put eggs in a microwave and frozen chicken into a deep fat fryer. And am I the only one who thinks she knows where this is going, anyway? Toward automation, that is—cut out 70% of the workforce and then maybe they’ll pay the rest $15/hour. Or not. But in the end they’ll be less of them to complain.