Yet another episode of “You Can’t Win, Poor People”

17 Jul 2013 03:21 pm
Posted by: Donna

McDonalds has been catching fire lately. First there were the reports of franchises partnering with Visa to pay minimum wage employees with fee-heavy debit cards. Now comes this:

McDonalds has partnered with Visa to launch a website to help its low-wage workers making an average $8.25 an hour to budget. But while the site is clearly meant to illustrate that McDonalds workers should be able to live on their meager wages, it actually underscores exactly how hard it is for a low-paid fast food worker to get by.

The site includes a sample “budget journal” for McDonalds’ employees that offers a laughably inaccurate view of what it’s like to budget on a minimum wage job. Not only does the budget leave a spot open for “second job,” it also gives wholly unreasonable estimates for employees’ costs: $20 a month for health care, $0 for heating, and $600 a month for rent. It does not include any budgeted money for food or clothing.

mcd's budget

Not so fast on that “second job”, though. Here’s McDonalds (again) featuring prominently in the zeitgeist of the One Percent:

Luce is a labor sociologist who studies union movements around the world. She co-authored, with the Retail Action Network, a study based on surveys of retail workers in New York, Discounted Jobs: How Retailers Sell Workers Short. “Managers are asked to schedule based on customer-flow, on weather, on trends in the economy, and to change the schedule day-to-day,” says Luce. “They don’t want employees that are going to say ‘I can’t come in, I have another job.’ They want employees that’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll come in if you need me. I won’t come in if you don’t need me.’”

You don’t have to go further than the nearest fast-food joint to see this trend. Devonte Yates is 21, and works at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee. He lives with his mother and little sister. Yates is getting an associate’s degree in criminal justice, so he’s paying tuition, a cell phone bill, plus rent to his mother and helping with the groceries. He’s paid minimum wage: $7.25 per hour. Yates’s bus ride to work takes 90 minutes, and costs him $4.50 round trip.

“The schedule comes out Fridays,” says Yates. “However, it is subject to change — at least that’s what’s written at the bottom of the schedule. Sometimes you can work a 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., and then the very next day have to be back at 6 in the morning. They schedule you so randomly that it’s pretty much impossible to find another job.”…

…There’s management-speak for this trend in on-call worker-scheduling expectations, says Stephanie Luce: ‘just-in-time scheduling.’

“I was just reading a retail consulting report,” says Luce, “that said this was the main area in which businesses could achieve profit — using labor-scheduling technologies. Employers want to reduce their cost. It was excess inventory in the ‘90s. And now it’s excess employment. This is a way for them to cut down on labor costs, and in theory shift it from a fixed cost to a variable cost that could shift with consumer demand.”

There is perhaps nothing that would more completely convey your boss’s tyranny over you than having to put your entire life on hold awaiting them to bid you to work. Yet this appears to be what many bosses are, in fact, doing these days. But again, there goes that “second job” that the benevolent budget-makers expect you to get to make that budget work.

Still, Timothy B. Lee of the Washington Post would like all you liberal meaniebutts to kindly refrain from mocking the budget that McDonalds and Visa so generously prepared for the benighted poors.

So the figures for heating and health insurance in the original Visa/McDonald’s sample budget are hard to defend. But overall, it offers a reasonable picture of how a typical person in the lower half of the income spectrum spends his money.

And the reality is that these low-income Americans have to make the kind of hard choices that critics are deriding as ridiculous. They have to make do with a used car, live in a modest apartment with a roommate, get by with basic cable and a low-end cellular plan, and travel and go out to eat infrequently.

Gawker calls the budget “just-shy-of-condescending,” but budgeting is an important skill that isn’t obvious to every young adult in America. Offering practical advice on how to live on a modest income is more constructive than ridiculing the choices required to do so.

Who the hell is he calling condescending? Timothy, being the clueless privileged honky that he is, probably only encounters working class people who are serving him in some capacity and is thus unfamiliar with them as actual human beings with lives who are able to make things work. They’re probably better at it than Timothy is. I guarantee the average single mom making $9 an hour can budget rings around Timothy. Poor families budget like nobody’s business. They have no choice in that. Being poor is ridiculously challenging and precarious and what poverty wage workers need is to earn a living wage, not be insulted with a budget produced by rich idiots who clearly assume everyone working at McDonalds is a teen living at home with his or her middle class parents.



  1. Comment by Mike Slater on July 18, 2013 12:53 pm

    Donna, wait until Obamacare kicks in. There will be less hours and less jobs.

  2. Comment by Timmys Cat on July 19, 2013 8:03 am

    I think this is just a continuation of trickle up economy the Republicans for years haved lied about being the other way around. By cutting wages and hours to boost the bottom dollar to keep managment salaries and dividends paying out , they have helped erode our societies wage and benefit bedrock simply for short term growth.
    What they don’t seem to understand is that if they treat people as temporary solutions to an immediate problem, then people will treat their employer the same. Customer service, integrity, care of equipment, diligence, and work ethic will be treated as optional services by employees. You will get what will pay me for.
    Inevitably society will react to the burdens these cost cutting measure place upon it. Obamacare, higher minimum wages and increasing unionization of service industries are an inevitable response to corporations that reap the benefits of American society, but will not be patriotically responsible and support the people in it.
    I think the backlash will become even stronger as the trickle up economy further divides America along a “have and have not” baseline.
    The unhidden selfishness and lack of empathy of many of the “I got mine” mindset will inevitably make it more and more necessary to force them to behave as responsible American citizens, and not as the fearful self entitled isolationists so many of them seem to behave as.

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