Fifteen dollars an hour to say, “Would you like fries with that?” or “Welcome to Wal-Mart?”
My very first position out of college in a terrible job market was as a Wal-Mart portrait studio photographer. Around the holidays, we’d have long lines; trying to get kids to smile after they’ve been waiting in Wal-Mart for two hours is no picnic. On my off days, I didn’t dare pick up the phone because my district manager regularly called people and demanded that they fill in for employees who were sick in other locations.
There was no chance of advancement because that same district manager was sleeping with one of his employees and she was being groomed for a promotion. It was a crummy job and to top it all off, my hours were curtailed so much for reasons I never understood that I was in essence laid off.
Of course, even that job was better than working at Burger King, where I did two stints. The first was as a teenager, where I had a feminist boss who deliberately assigned the men the lousy chores the women didn’t want to do in between yelling at us. If there was mopping to be done or taking out the trash, she made sure a man was doing it. Combine that with the fact that I was an immature 16 year old who didn’t like the job and it’s no surprise that I quit the moment I had enough money in my pocket to get by for awhile.
In retrospect, even that was better than being an assistant manager there, which I did for the better part of a year after my job at Wal-Mart. The manager would do things like assign you a breakfast shift, mid-day shift and night shift over three consecutive days. My feet hurt incessantly from standing around in dress shoes for 12 hours a day. There were managers stealing money and you always had to stay on top of your game to make sure you didn’t get blamed for it. Although we were paid a salary, when you factored in all the overtime hours we worked for free, we made less per hour than most of the employees.
Both jobs were low paying, difficult and generally unpleasant. There was never a time when I said, “Oh boy, I get to make Whoppers today,” or “I can’t wait to wake up a two month old baby and try to get decent pictures of him before he starts screaming his head off!” However, those were both starter jobs for people with minimal experience. The whole idea is supposed to be that you gain some basic skills and either move on or start working your way up. You’re not supposed to try to support a family flipping burgers or stocking the shelves at Wal-Mart. You’re also not supposed to make $15 an hour at a job where you work side by side with unreliable high school kids.
There are all sorts of economic arguments against paying $15 an hour wages to people who aren’t worth the money. It certainly causes companies to hire fewer people. High labor costs can even hurt the bottom line so badly that it threatens the survival of the business. Chrysler and General Motors could tell you all about that. Is putting even more people out of work when so many Americans are already unemployed something we should be doing?
Furthermore, the unhappy truth is that some employees aren’t worth the minimum wage, much less $15 an hour. There’s one guy I still remember to this day from my assistant manager days at Burger King, primarily because I could never understand why it took him so long to make a hamburger. Other employees who were generally more competent wouldn’t show up for work if they could score tickets for a concert or basketball game. If you tell a fast food restaurant to pay these people $15, they’re just going to fire them and replace them with robots. You may laugh at that, but it has already happened in banking, farming, and the movie rental industry. It’s a matter of time until it happens in restaurants as well.
All of that aside, as conservatives, we have a fundamentally different vision for people in starter jobs than the Left does. Liberals look at poor Americans, think they’re hapless losers who don’t deserve any better and see decades of food stamps, welfare and the minimum wage in their futures. However, nobody should want that for themselves, their children or their neighbors.
As a conservative who has worked those jobs and now works for myself, I think we should be encouraging people to aspire to be more than a minimally-educated, minimally-working, minimally-skilled minimum wage employee. There’s nothing wrong with any honest job, but there is something wrong with people squandering their potential. As Abraham Maslow once said, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” Ninety nine percent of Americans are capable of doing more with their lives than settling for a job most 16 year olds can be trained to do in a week. Instead of asking the government to force businesses to pay people more than they’re worth, we should encourage these employees to build up their skills so that they’ll genuinely be worth more. We should want all Americans to be all they can be so that they can have what they deserve out of life instead of encouraging them to settle for lives they would have never intentionally chosen for themselves.