On a $15 dollar minimum wage, someone working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, would take home only $30,000 per year — $24,716 after taxes. For the vast majority of fast food employees, who are self-subsisting 25- to 54-year-olds, this income is all they have to survive. And this money stretches very thin, especially in New York — $24,716 would not even cover an average year’s rent in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the current New York City minimum wage of $8.75 per hour translates to just $17,500 per year, just barely enough to make rent in the Bronx and hardly sufficient for human survival, much less supporting a family without public assistance.
Blogger Matt Walsh recently wrote a viral piece excoriating the New York fast food protesters for requesting a $15 per hour minimum wage. His argument, and the argument of many other pundits in his camp, is that because such a high wage would outstrip the wages of paramedics, teachers and mechanics, fast food workers should keep quiet and accept their lot. It is not fair, he opines, that fast food
workers — with relatively simple tasks — should ask for more than what their hardworking counterparts earn.
It is true that skilled workers are underpaid, but it is telling that Walsh’s first reaction is to drag fast-food workers down rather than try to lift other workers up. This reasoning represents a closed-minded political outlook that pits workers against workers and distracts from the class struggle that wage campaigns are meant to solve. For Walsh to demonize the working class is rubbing salt into their festering wounds. Conservatives like Walsh are content to invoke the struggles of the working class when it helps to put other working class people down, but never to question the overarching economic phenomena that hurts all workers — fry cooks and mechanics alike.
This prescription for poverty is simply to work harder, to put in the extra hours and take that second job in order to move up the proverbial ladder. But the U.S. labor landscape of today is much less forgiving than such an idyllic conception. Class mobility has stagnated to 1970s levels, the middle class is shrinking and income inequality is growing. The reason that fast food employees need the extra income is that, for the foreseeable future, that dead-end job is all they have.
Until workers are able to square off against their employers and rattle unfair corporate structures through protests, they will not see any progress in their living situations, no matter how hard they toil at the grease traps. Insisting that minimum wage earners buckle down, work harder and shut up
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 21 print edition. Email Richard Shu at [email protected]