Complaining about minimum wage jobs seems to be all the rage these days. In the past week, I've seen
several articles on this topic specifically targeted at the fast food industry--McDonald's seems to be the most popular punching bag in this case. In this series, I will address a few different angles on this issue. Today's post is going to be geared towards the people who have been boned by the new economy: the overqualified, unlucky sod who got laid off from a decent job and now has no choice but to get a low-wage, entry-level job to support his/her family.
The essential gripe is that fast food workers are angry that they are not paid enough, that minimum wage is not a "living wage." They argue that while McDonald's is making record sales, the CEO pulls in about $13.7 million as a salary, and the company is growing, they should get a bigger piece of the pie.
How much bigger do they think their slice should be? These people are insisting that they be paid a "living wage," of $15 an hour.
I recently made a job change to a company that deals in workforce development. My position is considered entry-level, but it has a minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree in social work with no prior experience, or a bachelor's degree with 1-3 years prior experience in workforce development. What do I get paid for my entry-level position? $33,000 a year, which roughly works out to about $15.85 an hour.
So you can imagine my incredulity when the drive-thru worker at McDonald's demands he/she be paid nearly as much as me. Like my position, the job of "crew member," is considered entry-level, but it should be painfully obvious that there is a huge difference between the two positions.
Why should someone who flips burgers and sticks some fries into a deep fryer get paid just as much as me? "Well Jack, because of the new, crappy economy, many overqualified people have no choice but to take these low-paying jobs. And these people have families they have to support." So what? Are we arguing that pay-scale should be based on whether or not you have a family? I have a family, so does that mean I should be paid $30/hr instead of $15.85?
Some people need to face the facts: you are paid according to the difficulty of the work you do and the availability of a replacement should you decide to quit. If you work a job that requires minimal brain function, that is entry level, and has a nearly endless applicant pool, then you are going to be paid minimum wage. This is why doctors and architects make the big bucks. This is why you can expect to make $100k+ a year if you run a nuclear power plant: because the skill set is astronomically complex, and there aren't many people who can do it.
If you don't like being paid minimum wage, then do what everyone else has done: better yourself and work towards moving on to a more prosperous career. Towards the end of my high school career, I knew that I didn't want to go to college right away, but I also knew that I didn't want a McJob. So what did I do? I joined the Navy.
After a pretty successful 4-year stint in the Navy, I decided that it wasn't for me. I wanted a career that wouldn't require me to leave my family all the time. So what did I do? I got out and went to college--and yes, I had to raise and support a family while I was in college. In that time, I worked during the summers with a youth employment program, and I tutored during the school year. I didn't have to do any of this, but it helped to build my resume.
There wasn't a whole lot of meaningful work to do when I graduated college. So what did I do? I got a crappy, entry-level job in a call center (Nationwide Children's Hospital). I wanted to gouge my eyes out working in a call center. So what did I do? I used my network of peoples, and I found a job as a job coach.
I wasn't getting paid enough in that job, and the hours weren't steady. So what did I do? I put in some job applications, and I found a job that would pay me more for doing less (at least, I think this job is easier than my last one). What I do is not glamorous, and $33,000 a year is less than what first-year teachers make, but here's the key to my career trajectory: I don't plan on staying in this entry-level position forever. My current position will serve as a springboard for the rest of my career. Either I eventually will move up in this company into a supervisory/management position, or I will use the years of experience as an excellent resume point.
So if you're stuck in a McJob and you truly are meant for bigger and better-paying things, then you will move up or move on. If not, then perhaps the only job you deserve is making chili-cheese burritos at Taco Bell. In today's economy, your career success is impacted by your ability to build yourself towards your ultimate career goal. Don't expect a hand-out from people who have been there--people who have struggled, just like you, but instead of asking to be paid more, they worked hard to better their situations.