broadsideblog

The endless fight for a living wage: is $15/hour really too much?

In behavior, business, cities, culture, life, Money, news, urban life, US, work on November 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

The federal U.S. minimum wage remains $7.25. Five states have no set legal minimum at all; six pay more than $8.00/hour.

(The minimum wage in Australia is already $15.00.)

In an era of almost $4/gallon gasoline and rising costs for food, health care and other necessities, the fight to win a living wage continues.

Official seal of SeaTac, Washington

Official seal of SeaTac, Washington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The city of SeaTac, in Washington State, is fighting this battle today.

From bbc.co.uk:

Supporters of Proposition 1 say $15 an hour is a “living wage”.

Detractors say that it would see businesses close and lay off some of
the 6,300 workers who would be impacted by the raise.

SeaTac covers just 10 sq miles (26 sq km) and has a population of just 30,000, with only 12,000 registered voters.

But what everyone agrees on is that tiny SeaTac has suddenly become a battleground for one of the biggest issues confronting the US economy – income inequality, or the widening gap between the rich andpoor, which has risen to its highest level since 1917.

“Coming out of the recession, we’ve seen job growth come out of the low-wage service sector,” says Prof Ken Jacobs, head of the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center.

The battle is pitched — desperate workers struggling to make ends meet against employers who insist they cannot possibly pay more.

Or that workers simply offer little to no skills, certainly none they value at that price.

The state of New Jersey — with 50,000 workers employed at minimum wage — will raise its lowest legal wage January 1 to $8.25/hour.

Like every argument, this one contains a blend of truth and perception, of assumption and received wisdom.

One of the issues is really thinking harder about what constitutes a “skill.”

Here are my thoughts, quoted recently in U.S. News and World Report, about what it’s like to work retail.

I worked a low-wage job from September 2007 to December 18, 2009 when the economy fell off a cliff and I desperately needed additional income. I sold costly outdoor clothing and accessories for The North Face, in an upscale suburban mall in New York, a 10-minute drive from my home. I earned $11/hour with no commission, few bonuses and a 30-cent raise in that time.

I typically sold $150+ worth of merchandise every hour; my best day ever, I sold more than $500 worth per hour.

And the company’s “reward” for selling $25,000 worth of its merchandise, virtually all of it sourced from low-wage factories in Peru, China and elsewhere? A gift card for the same merchandise worth $25.

You can exhort your workers and plaster mission statements to your walls, issue edicts, wave your hands…It’s tough for any worker to get excited — or “engaged” as the workplace gurus like to call it — when you’re toiling for pennies and earning significant profits for the person who relies on your labor.

Let alone a major multi-national corporation whose top executives now stagger home bent double with the bags of cash they’re netting — now typically 354 times the wage of their average worker.

When you can’t even pay your bills, no matter how hard you work, work loses much of its meaning.

And all of its dignity.

In January 2009, our store manager cut all our hours. I was only working one seven-hour shift, then cut to five hours, one of which paid for the cost of parking at the mall. We were told “the company can’t afford more.”

That month The Wall Street Journal reported that the parent company of The North Face was sitting on millions in cash — money it used in 2011 to purchase a competitor, Timberland for $2 billion.

The assumption being that no one working a low-wage job would notice this odd and striking definition of “can’t afford.”

I did, and wrote about this in my book about my time there, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which was published in China in July 2013.

malled cover HIGH

I do realize what happens when you pay workers poorly — they quit! I’ve been hiring part-time assistants for more than 15 years, when I paid a college undergrad $12/hour for her skills. Jess was amazing: smart, funny, a quick learner and a ferocious work ethic.

That was a lot of money then, and for some workers, it still is. I’d have simply felt embarrassed offering her less; I recently heard from an undergrad at a prestigious American university that a professor offered them $7.25/hour, which I find appalling and abusive.

When I pay $10/hour I can find smart and talented people  — but only for a few weeks, a month or so at most. They leave quickly, as they must, to make more elsewhere. At $15/hour I was able to keep the skills of someone else this year for more than eight months.

Hoping to replace her, (as she now seeks a full-time job), I recently interviewed someone who came highly recommended…and who wants $25/hour.

That’s my breaking point. So, for now, I am mostly assistant-less, and feeling that loss in my reduced productivity.

The pricing of our labor is a delicate dance. But tight-fisted employers who insist that low-wage workers have “no skills” are lying to themselves and to their weary workers.

They’re also short-changing their customers, who need, expect and deserve good service for their hard-earned dollars.

Here are some of the skills we used in our retail work:

– Maintaining a sense of humor (let alone having one to start with!)

– Listening carefully and for long periods of time to customers to discern their needs

– Speaking to customers in whatever style/tone/speed (even foreign language) best suited them

– Learning and memorizing a wide array of product knowledge: size/price/technical specs

– Lifting, carrying, stacking, folding and hanging goods

– Cleaning and tidying the entire store, top to bottom

– Ringing up purchases

– Watching the sales floor to deter shoplifting

No skill?

Snort.

Try calming a shrieking one-per-center threatening to “call corporate” if you fail to meet her demands.

Try helping a mentally disabled teen sort through all his jacket options to find something he loves that fits

Try explaining to a Saudi prince’s servant which down jacket will keep the princeling warm in his first New York winter.

walmart beijing

walmart beijing (Photo credit: galaygobi)

When Walmart employees suck up taxpayers’ money in food stamps ad Medicaid because their cannot earn a living wage...we’ve got a problem.

A 2004 study by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Industrial Relations found that, in California, the average Walmart employee required over $500 more in total public assistance than workers from comparable large retailers. Families of Walmart workers required 40% more health care assistance and 38% more in other kinds of public assistance (like food stamps, subsidized housing, and school lunches) than comparable families of large retail workers.

In addition, a 2006 report by the Philadelphia Inquirer found that Walmart had the highest percentage of employees enrolled in Medicaid in the state; one in every six of Walmart’s 48,000 Pennsylvania employees was enrolled. Finally, in January of 2012, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services found that Walmart employees and families were the top recipients of Medicaid, food stamps, and cash assistance in the state.

The American worker is being subjected to a fierce game of chicken — who will blink first? Who will cave most quickly to imperial corporate demands, like these, made to the mayor of a small, economically-strapped town in Idaho:

Another economic rescue with Hoku’s glamour and promise is not on the horizon. Mr. Blad, in an interview in his office, said a big employer had recently expressed interest in coming here, bringing perhaps 1,000 jobs. But the company, which he declined to name — a warehouse distributor that does most of its sales over the Internet — has said it would offer $10 an hour, only a few dollars above the minimum wage.

The company even had the audacity to ask for financial incentives, which the city has politely declined. “We would welcome them, and we would value them,” Mr. Blad said. “But I can’t justify taxpayer dollars for a $10-an-hour job.”

What say you?

Are you working for (or paying) minimum or low wages?

If you’re earning so little, do you have an exit strategy?

  1. I am sitting at a McDonalds and watching their underpaid employees work their butts off while the new owners quibble over extraneous BS.

  2. I have gone the route of working for myself for many of these reasons–to make ends meet while getting that off the ground, I work at a school for $11. As a single woman with no children I cover my expenses (barely), but these families who make less than me with extra people to feed…it can’t be possible.

    • Thanks for sharing this…It is a very small amount of money in the year 2013…wages have been stagnant for decades.

      Those with kids…have family to baby-sit and/or public housing and/or they work two or three jobs.

  3. During the tail end of the 2001 recession, I worked for a year as a receptionist at a family owned company, making a little over $9 an hour with benefits that were regularly being cut because the company couldn’t afford them. The owner of the company, when he deigned to grace us with his presence, usually made appearances to show off his latest Cadillac or his new custom RV. (He had several of them.) The whole business was just a clusterfuck of nepotism and waste.

    I’ve seen this same dynamic play out over and over again. Consequently it is challenging for me to take the poormouthing of a lot of these top-level managers and executives seriously. Maybe if they were willing to take serious pay cuts too, I’d be more inclined to think they were being honest.

  4. I make just a litle over the minimum wage, and I get some help from my dad every month. Otherwise I’d be in trouble! It’s still pretty expensive, so I’m glad I have the pay, though I wouldn’t mind if the pay was raised a little. In fact, everyone should earn enough to live. Otherwise, aren’t we basically saying okay to someone possibly losing their home or starving? That seems wrong to me.
    Oh, and who says that low-wage workers have no skill? In my sociology class I learned that a hairdresser–who doesn’t get paid a lot–has to take vague directions from a client, create an image in their mind, recreate it in the physical world, and figure out how exactly to do it. That sounds just as complicated as open-heart surgery or repairing an important mechanical doohickey, if you ask me!

    • Thank heaven you get some extra money…

      “Otherwise, aren’t we basically saying okay to someone possibly losing their home or starving? That seems wrong to me.”
      Exactly.

      My hairdresser has tremendous skill, and I pay him quite a bit for it…

      • Me too. When I go to the barber every few months, I always make sure to tip him for his hard work. Besides, he’s much more affordable than other barbers around campus, and the atmosphere is awesome, like a 1920’s parlor. You can’t help but want to tip him.

      • And that is the challenge for anyone in the service business — including me…adding that dollop of charm (or whatever) that makes your service or product special and valuable.

      • I hope in the future, it’s a bit easier for you.

  5. When 5 years experience and 3 degrees became requirements for someone to answer a phone in an office- is when this became the real problem. This is why adults are working $8.00 an hour jobs, and not high school kids, like it should be. This is why families are hungry, and companies pay it, because they can. Because people accept they wages they have no choice but to accept. The balance was thrown off, and increasing the wages across the board is going to throw an entirely different balance off. It won’t fix it. It will just create an entirely different problem. ( and no, I don’t live in a high income household. I live in an in-between household. Not poor enough to be poor but still broke all the time. )

    • I disagree, although yes — requiring a college degree is now a nasty new sorting mechanism.

      Yes, some people are economically desperate and have to take the lowest possible wage offered. But anyone with skills they can sell (even on the side/nights/weekends — dogwalking, babysitting, bartending, waitressing, photography, cooking, writing, crafts, lawn-mowing) can boost their incomes and/or sharpen their skills to a higher degree. The labor market is not as fixed as employers want people to think.

      It is not true that everyone “has” to accept crap wages and conditions. If you have zero skills and zero ambition or physical stamina to envision anything better…?

      • We’re going to have to disagree then.

        Ultimately my point was not about sharpening the skill-set you already have; it was about employers overlooking and even downright refusing to consider those without the degrees–when those without the degree may be their best assets given the chance.

        It’s a paper trail world, and it’s heavily flawed.

      • What would you propose as a solution? I am not denying the problem, but what next?

      • There is no simple solution. It starts at the base with potential employees knowing their strengths, focusing on them without shooting too high or too low and being honest in owning their weaknesses. It carries up with employers truly being equal opportunity in every aspect and their consideration of non-degreed adult job seekers for entry level positions–and then the pay scale; which is out of both employee and employers hands. It’s complex, but sometimes all it takes is one person doing something off the grid to start a change.

      • I hired my assistant — and have worked with her for 8+ months — with no references or interview (but a decent college degree), and we have still never met. She has no journalism experience but working with me won her a NYT byline…I am less interested in people’s degrees and credentials than their work ethic and attitude. I guess I am unusual in this respect.

        The college degree as sorting mechanism is a shorthand for: a sustained work ethic (as so many never finish their degrees); the ability to synthesize and analyze reams of data; an understanding of complexity…

        If someone was applying to me for a job and had no college degree (and no desire to ever acquire any training beyond high school) I would def. want to know why.

      • The questions to ask aren’t why are you applying for a job with me when you didn’t go to/finish college, ( under the assumption ( as you put it ) that they never had any desire ) but why didn’t you, and why do you you believe you can do this job without the degree?

        It’s all perception based. Your perception ( likely based on experience ) is that one without a degree can’t process high volume data or intake complex scenarios and send them back out in some semblance of order. But it’s a flawed one, just as the pay grade issue is. But it is what you’ve come to expect. Just as people without degrees have come to expect to take low paying jobs.

        It’s the system as it stands.

      • I still ask the question…what would be the reason you (or anyone else) does not want to attend any form of higher/specialized training or education? Why do people attend it? To learn new skills: to work at a much higher intellectual level (at best) than high school (unless you were lucky enough to attend an extremely demanding high school); to further your intellectual ambitions.

        If you (or anyone) have no intellectual/work ambitions, you would not be someone especially appealing to me as an employee. IF college were avoided because it is a passive and costly way to learn (which it can be) and you were clearly an auto-didact whose learning style is more experiential — bring it on. But prove to me that this is a specific choice, thoughtfully made.

        If you choose to buck the system (and I am all for that in principle) you will also have to show some exceptional talent, ability, ideas and work ethic. It is what it is.

      • “to work at a much higher intellectual level”

        Fortunately for me, I wouldn’t seek employment from you, so I would never need to prove anything. If you’ll excuse me, I’m done here.

      • My goal was not to insult you, so sorry if this was offensive to you.

        Given the appalling state of many high school graduates’ ability to reason, write and communicate, I would expect a clear and persuasive explanation why your skills were — unlike so many others, even post-college — worth paying for.

        Everyone hoping for income in this economy has to make the same argument. As do I.

      • I would think those expectations would be sought after from any individual regardless of education; since it would appear that we are individuals, not our degrees.

        Which in the end, is perhaps the base root of the problem. We’re all viewed by our accomplishments and achievements and the lists of them that trail behind us. Not by who we are. I find the who provides a much more accurate description of what the individual can do and provide than those papers ever would.

        But I tend to think in a different space of being than most.

      • OK…so I come to you and I want you to hire me for …let’s say….$45,000 a year, just to pick a random amount.

        If you want to know who I am, what do you do to find out — and feel confident I am not a liar or spin-meister? If I have no achievements in any public sphere (metrics, yes), how do you know I have any proven, tested, useful skills to offer you?

        Or do you think — well, I can just fire them if they don’t work out? Curious to know if (?) you’ve hired or been hired and how that conversation went.

        Philosophically, I agree with you entirely. Practically….?

  6. I earn little, work retail, and would be thankful if I could just get 40 hours a week on the schedule. I don’t want health insurance. I don’t want a raise (although both of those would be lovely things). I want to be able to work at least 40 hours in one week every week. I am about to be forced to buy health insurance which is definitely going to be a hardship and not an immediate noticeable blessing. I spend more and more time thinking about an exit strategy… but I am not overly optimistic.

    • Thanks for sharing your story here…this is exactly the dirty secret of retail “jobs” — which are not full-time jobs paying a living wage, for many reasons I discuss in Malled. I am sorry to hear that, but not surprised.

      Twas ever thus…the only retailers I have heard anything positive about are Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Container Store…some of which pay better than average and/or offer health insurance to part-timers.

  7. My daughter just recently became a mom. Most of the nannies wanted $25 a hour which she could not do. It was cheaper for hubby to quit his job and work at home and take care of the baby. So, what did charging that $25 an hour get anybody? No extra job, correct. They have a student come in twice per week @$15 for only 10 hours weekly total. Ain’t nobody get rich, is there?
    I have two college degrees and have never once made more than $28,000 a year. When I turned 50 I begged my boss just to please, please, please pay me at least $30,000. He didn’t. So I quit and became self employed. I didn’t make much there either. I was a computer tech. Clients wanted to pay me what they paid a high school student to come in and fix their computers. Nice.
    My first job as a senior in high school was a bond clerk for Merrill Lynch. I made $2.00 an hour. Minimum wage at that time was $1.75 BUT because I lied and told them I wasn’t going to college in September, I got the extra fifty cents. My whole entire life has been spent arguing with bosses to pay me more. With a mortgage, divorce and two young daughters, I always, always lost the argument.
    Rather than complain, I sharpened my frugal skills and made it all work. My daughters, however, had to pitch in and work babysitting jobs, dog sitting jobs and then as they got older, wait tables. They also paid for their own educations (high school and college) You do what you have to do to make it in this world, I suppose.
    I don’t know what the answer is. I just can’t see someone working at The Dollar Store earn $15-$25 an hour. Ditto with McDonald’s. $10 seems to be the going rate. Otherwise, as with your assistant and my daughter’s nanny, you hire no one. My great Brooklyn CPA once told me this, and I have followed it ever since: it is better to make a little money than no money.

    Good luck everyone.

    • It is a sad comment on your boss that an extra $2,000 was too much.

      The amount we are willing/able to pay for labor is variable…

      I just asked my assistant for a 2013 invoice and it came to more than $1,500…That’s a lot more than a retail job PT would have paid and it taught her useful professional skills (as we have discussed between us.)

      It’s a lot of $$ to me, (on my income), but it’s also a comment on the value I felt she offered to me: good humor, intelligence, self-direction, ideas — and moral support. I am doing everything I now can to help her find more work and new contacts. Quid pro quo.

      That is a **very** different deal than many low-wage employers are offering — straight labor for shitty money. No prospects for raises, promotions, advancement or learning (more valuable) new skills. Dead end jobs.

      The woman who expected $25 an hour, in your case and mine, could clearly afford to not work…or they would have shown some flexibility in their quoted prices.

      I agree with you — every paid hour is an hour in which you are not (with daily fixed living costs) losing money by being alive and not earning. But…and it is a big but…I do not think people should get stuck in crap jobs at low pay.

      I wonder why, with two degrees, you were unable to command or negotiate a higher salary. (Not a criticism, a question.)

      • Caitlin, your guess is as good as mine. I used to think it was me. Whatever job I applied for, I always got. I’ve always worked in accounting, as a full charge bookkeeper. Mostly in budget administration. Accounts receivable & payable. Now, CPA’s scramble for these positions. When I didn’t get the $2K raise, I put in my 2 week notice. My replacement was a CPA and the firm paid him $60K a year, yet they wouldn’t pay me the $30K, a bargain. Their loss. My gain. (obviously the firm wasn’t too bright up in the head, duh!)
        I went on to better things.

    • You get paid a minimum of 15-18 dollars here in Australia. And for the most part it works. The people would never accept less here. And while I am an outside reaping the benefits of this arrangement, I can see that many Australians feel entitled to the golden life and are at times unaware of just how easy they have it. No one here would put up with bad pay. I think the situation is dire in America (and Canada). I make 20,000 more here in Perth doing the same job I did in Toronto. It’s unfair but the people would never let it dip. There are a number of things connected to this. They as a rule promote Australian made brands, and are passionate about supporting their own manufacturing industry. They do export goods, and they also mostly have Australian produce in their grocery stores. When you start out sourcing for the cheapest items you start to screw it all up. Everything must take a dip if everyone wants cheap stuff. The only negative (major one) here, is that people have a sense of entitlement that I think is a bit disgusting. They must have a house. It is simply engrained in them. However, this creates industry as well….it’s hard to wrap it all up in one paragraph but I do think 15.00 an hour is reasonable but you cannot let it slide down, which I think America and Canada (and many other nations) have done since the 20’s. Labour is outsourced, and it’s screwed up rich nations, by making everyone poor.

      • So glad you weighed in here…I’d really like to come to Australia and write a long business story about how this works and why management doesn’t keep crying poor as they do in the U.S.

        Canadian salaries are quite shockingly low in some industries. Every time I read the want ads, I am struck by that.

  8. I feel like this, your newest post is somewhat aimed at me because of my responses to yesterday’s post. First off let me say that I certainly don’t have al the answers but I would like to offer up a couple of observations at least from the perspective of one who pays employees. Any employer that wants to stay in business must make a profit. The most expensive cost of doing business for most businesses is labor. That being said an employer seeks the best most ‘skilled’ employee he can find for the least cost. The cost of an employe is more than his salary. The employer must find him, recruit him, train him, pay him, pay half his SS, his unemployment compensation, pay for his tools, any mistakes he makes, his vacation, his healthcare, file all the necessary forms and meet al the safety requirements, hire an accountant to do the paperwork, a lawyer to comply with all the state, federal and local requirements and other things that I’m sure I missed. I was an employee myself and I know how most employees think…the boss just goes to the bank in his Mercedes and here I am making him all this money. I wonder how many employees were around when the owner was working 80 plus hour weeks, often without pay, or how many would be willing to risk everything in their bank accounts to take a chance on building a business in the first place. How many would give up their vacations or kids soccer games sometimes for years to start and run a business. My guess is not many. Be careful painting someone with a broad brush as sometimes things aren’t as they seem. Are their lousy business owners who could care less for their employees? Absolutely! Should workers be paid a fair wage? Absolutely! You won’t get any argument from me. Raise the minimum wage? I would be against that probably as all that would do would add to the cost of doing business and passed on to the consumer anyways and would probably end up costing more entry level jobs than anything else. Everybody needs to start somewhere, for most unfortunately that is the bottom. I think it would be a far better idea to cut tax rates and ease up on some of the regulations on business and close down illegal immigrants which keeps the minimum labor pool large which keeps wages lower. Wouldn’t a worker be better off keeping a larger portion of their GROSS pay instead of sharing their NET pay with the government? There is an awful lot of problems with wages and taxation but I think it’s a good idea to place the blame where it belongs. There’s plenty to go around but I think most small business people anyways take pretty good care of their employees, at least the ones I know

    • While I am always happy to hear your point of view, I don’t aim any single post at any single reader — with almost 8,000 followers here, that’s unlikely and unwise.

      Many, many people are utterly fed up having to fight and fight and fight for a living wage. Not to take home a TON of money. Enough money for a hard day’s work to pay their basic bills.

      My post in no way denies the hard work of someone who starts and runs his own firm. My beef is with the Walmarts of the world, corporate greedheads who suck up government tax incentives and breaks, pay crap, then offer only PT work — yet trumpet themselves as “job creators.”

      I have seen what the recession did to our contractor (who is also a friend now) so I have few illusions. My brother founded and runs his own software firm and he has employees…these issues are not off my radar.

      Some people just want to go to work and get paid; i.e. they do not have the physical, mental or fiscal stamina to start and run a business. Which is fine — because you need employees! But people who work for others deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Cheaping out on them because…it’s possible…that does not work for me as a valid or persuasive argument.

  9. Absolutely fantastic content. Business interests continue to suggest that if they were to increase wages, that would impact their enterprise’s survival. Here is a thought, improve the efficiencies within the structure. Align vision and goals that are measureable. Rid the organization of those who contribute little or no value. By cutting the “zombies”, the organization gets time to breathe: financially etc.

  10. I don’t feel informed enough to make much of a comment on this, but I do hate seeing the disparity in pay scales. The majority of direct care staff at the hospital where I work are making minimum wage– they have no choice but to seek government assistance. It makes it difficult when the administration is out of touch and thinks they can require them to buy their own uniforms or PAY to attend their own employee banquet. These people work an incredibly difficult job (it’s a psych hospital) and are considered “without skill.” It boggles the mind.

    • Thanks for weighing in.

      It is an outright lie to hire someone to work for you while insisting they have no skills. Really? Then why did you hire them…only to treat them with fiscal and intellectual contempt? Now that’s a productive way to treat fellow human beings.

  11. I think we should all read the Grapes of Wrath again! How can we change this? Some kind of a Revolution?

    • I tried to sell my book proposal examining this..and offering some solutions. No one wanted it.

      I think elite Americans are all set (shrug) and the desperate are too exhausted working 2-3 jobs just to stay alive…nor they have any sort of political clout. The only glimmers of hope I see is a small, scattered renaissance of the labor movement — i.e. unions.

      • On Tuesday I spent about an hour reading about Marie Antoinette and we are reliving exactly what the French did during her time…it’s striking how we all have inertia and are pissed off but not motivated enough to make a scene.

        On an entirely unrelated note, have you seen the latest on the mayor (Ford) of Toronto? Thought you might find it a bit humorous and also tragic…I feel for Torontonians.

      • Hell, yes….Ford is all over the American news. I am following it quite closely — and many of FB friends are in Toronto as well…

      • I wanted to add one more thing…

        On Capitalism.

        I think this is the root of the problem. Full stop. The Australian government had an issue last year with Ford Motors, as they could not affoard to keep production in Australia. As the wages were too high. The thing is, they have several Australian brands here that are doing really well and Ford is not as popular…the point being unless you are luxury and exotic maybe don’t try and dominate the world? If America kept it’s car industry in America, and fed the need in thier own country for work etc…it might balance out instead of trying to push thier products (Macdonalds etc) onto the entire world.

        The mining industry here is about to see a shift, and the market is leaning towards outsourced labour (Gina Rienhart is pushing this). Naturally the population is not thrilled with this.

        I read a really good book several years ago called “The Ecology of Commerce” It was forward thinking in reducing the footprint we make through buisness. I believe if some of these ideas were implemented (green energy) we could see more industry and a higher standard of living.

        The one idea that I thought was rather brilliant was:

        To build a skyscrapper, but equip each level as if it were a greenhouse. The light would be rigged to grow plants and water also fed throughout the building. Apparently only one of these types of buildings would be needed to sucessfully feed all of Toronto. Food for thought…

        I also think solar energy would be an excellent way to inject more jobs and responsible energy into the country.

      • No argument from me on that point. In the U.S. free-market laissez-faire capitalism rules. It hurts millions of people while hugely enriching the top tier.

        But who will change it and when?

  12. Being born and raised near Sea-Tac I found this really interesting. I had heard rumbling about this from friends. I too worked retail to put myself through school. Even once I was a teacher, I still did some retail on the side. I worked for good companies who had incentive pay and bonuses. And the last company I worked for actually provided health care and paid sick leave. I was lucky. Today I am sickened by how workers in America are treated. And when I am home, unless I’m desperate, I steer clear of WalMart.

    In Germany, if you work in retail, you have health care….COMPLETE health care. You get at least a 6 week paid vacation. You are paid a good wage. And none of these companies are going out of business. The car industry is booming. And teachers….well it is a choice profession.

    • It is sadly fascinating to me to see what a shithole retail work has become — and how many Americans are so desperate they just keep lining up for it. I see very very few employers (and lucky you to have found one) who treat their low-wage workers well here.

  13. I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere until a majority of influential people in this country come around to the idea that we don’t have to throw up a knee-jerk defense of big business every time an issue like this comes up. WE are the government, and we can place any rules on how to conduct business that we wish. THEY, the companies, are very good at making money, and they will do so, and “help the economy,” no matter what the playing field looks like, (and no matter how much corporations whine about it not being “level,” which translated, means, “not tilted in our favor.”) And then, maybe the bottom third of earners can make more money to live on at the fraction-of-a-percentage point cost to the thin, atmospheric layer of the very rich who “earn” money by being shareholders.
    I read that Walmart had internal programs to help their employees sign up for and get government funded financial aid. It’s no wonder they seem to be over-represented in the figures you cited, above, but somehow horrifying that they are so eager to do this instead of raise their wages. This could explain why state-funded welfare is tolerated as much as it is. Big Business is curiously quiet on the issue.

    • Their silence, as is often the case with “silence” = complicity.

      If you can (and they do) screw millions of Americans out of a decent wage (while the lucky and self-righteous assume it will never be their turn or their kids’ turn), why on earth would you ruin such a good thing with any notion of morality or social justice? The status quo serves so many so well.

  14. […] was the discussion of learning. In one of her recent posts, Caitlin Kelly talked about the unpaid internship concept going away. I understand the arguments for it, but I can’t help but think, “What I […]

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