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Soft-Handed Academic Dudes and Minimum Wage Fast Food: What Could Go Wrong?

I see tweets like this one in my timeline and I brace myself for the inevitable dogpile bashing workers:

Unemployed minimum wage workers have collected too much from state unemployment and federal aid, the old white dudes opine from their cushy home offices somewhere in McMansionburbia, nudge-nudge-winking about prescient forecasts of inflationary pressures.

Sod off, you slack-bottomed, soft-handed gits.

Unemployed minimum wage workers were most likely to be laid off early in the pandemic, and may already have been laid off not once but twice or perhaps even more, depending on location and on whether they were or are juggling one or more minimum wage jobs to make ends meet.

These are the same workers whose jobs OSHA has categorized as High Exposure Risk:

Those who have frequent indoor or poorly ventilated contact with the general public, including workers in retail stores, grocery stores or supermarkets, pharmacies, transit and transportation operations, law enforcement and emergency response operations, restaurants, and bars.

They’re in the same risk class as mortuary workers who prep the bodies of those who died of COVID.

This group of workers are among the risk class most likely to experience an outbreak of COVID; just look at the workplaces where Michigan had outbreaks as of April 9:

Not as bad as schools but how many of the K-12 and university students overlap in some way with fast food workers — either as consumers or employees?

Recall my chicken scratching from my last post about the unaffordability of the American Dream in which I calculate annual earnings for a full-time minimum wage worker:

Do the math:

Minimum federal wage $7.25  x  40 hour week  x  52 weeks  =  $15,080 a year.

That’s nowhere near enough to make a payment on the median home priced at $301,000. It’s not enough for a tiny dump of a house at one-third of median price.

The equation above already contains numerous generous assumptions: the employee makes 1) minimum federal wage, 2) at a full-time job, 3) for the entire year. For most minimum wage workers, at least one of these three points doesn’t apply. Most employers who hire minimum wage workers avoid paying unemployment taxes by employing workers less than full time, which means a minimum wage worker must work two jobs (or more) to make $15,080.

The average one-bedroom or studio apartment costs roughly $1000 a month right now. What’s left over for food, health care, transportation? Even if a worker can manage a roommate or two, what’s left over for basic needs?

Gods help them if they need childcare or eldercare on top of shelter, food, health care, and transportation.

And with most employers refusing to hire minimum wage workers for more than 27-32 hours a week in order to avoid paying either unemployment insurance tax or contribute to health care, these workers are likely not to have any benefits like sick or paid time off, or any savings to offset time needed for illness.

Why would any food service or retail employer think for a moment that minimum wage workers should be beating down the doors to come back to more of the same if their health and their lives had been and could be again at risk, for an absurdly low wage? Why can’t the usual pudgy white neoliberal male academic types grasp this?

The snotty, dismissive attitude by business toward minimum wage workers reflected in the tweet above — though labor appears to be an essential component to the business — also reveals both carelessness and cluelessness of these businesses. If a piece of equipment needed repair for the business to remain open, they’d fix it. But apparently remedying the problems their workers face is a step too far or opaque to the business operator.

Minimum wage workers also need the right to organize. Amazon may pay more than the federal minimum wage, but there are businesses across the U.S. which also operate like Amazon but without the notoriety forcing Amazon to pay better wages. Those businesses must be forced to rejigger their business models. Amazon is no model employer, either; overall conditions are bad when Amazon looks good by comparison.

But demanding businesses rework their operations to protect workers’ right to organize is too much to ask, one might say. Is it?

When businesses shut down sites to avoid unionization, they are rejiggering their business model, and they are doing it at a cost to the community as well as the workers. They are eating the cost of the closures to make an ugly point.

Kroger’s Seattle locations aren’t the only two sites the grocer is closing for this reason. At least three more closed in California to avoid paying higher wages to their workers who are disproportionately at risk of COVID — wages mandated by local government to ameliorate the risks these workers take.

Workers need Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2019 (PRO Act) for this reason, as do their communities. Many older and disabled Americans rely on their local grocers; losing one is incredibly disruptive and expensive, especially when it creates a food desert. No business is obligated to do business in any location, but a business willing to pull up and leave a neighborhood and damage customer relations solely because it can’t (read: won’t) figure out how to pay a living wage needs to do its own reorganization internally, restructuring its business model to operate ethically. A workforce which has the right to unionize may be the only way to force business to reset its thinking and operations.

In other words, if a business’s profits rely on paying wages which can’t support a worker, the business model isn’t legitimate. Unions may be the only means to make this clear to businesses.

Something needs to give soon, because this kind of scenario will continue — a clueless business thinking it must hire anybody at less than living wages, to work in conditions which may not be safe for either employees or customers.

The Youngsville mother of two was taken aback at the offer since she was only trying to go inside to get the food that was left out of her order after going through the drive-thru a first time. The lobby was closed, so she went back to the drive-thru window to get the order straightened out.

Then she learned why the lobby was closed.

“The manager told me, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t open the lobby because no one wants to work,’” Picou said. “And then she asked if I wanted a job. She said they’d hire anyone at this point.”

Imagine thinking a fully-staffed indoor fast food lobby is necessary in the middle of a pandemic, instead of creating a safer alternative.

Waiting for those slack-bottomed academic types to nod their heads vigorously in affirmation as they wipe the fast food mung off their faces.

You’ll notice that young mother in that article didn’t jump at the offer.

Goodbye, American Dream: The Unaffordability of American Life

My oldest sent me a text this past weekend:

Also houses down here are going for 1.5x value. [Friend] put an offer in at 200k for house selling for 160k and it ended up selling for 240k. There’s no way it’ll appraise that high but EVERY house is selling like that.

Folks in big coastal metro areas will laugh at these prices, but until recently $160,000 bought a 900-1200 square foot home, three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a basement and a two-car garage in a suburban setting here in Michigan. At this price one wouldn’t find a brand new home but one between 10 to 50 years old, with a medium sized suburban lot. If one was really lucky, the house would be move-in ready, the yard would be fenced, and there might be a shed in the backyard for the lawn mower.

A young professional earning $80 to $100,000 a year could afford this and a family and still have a tiny bit left over to put in retirement savings.

But it’s a stretch at $200,000, and absolutely out of their range at $240,000. They may not even have the 20-25% down payment for this larger price, and the housing market has tightened so quickly they certainly haven’t been able to come up with an additional $20 to $40,000 to put down.

Wall Street Journal reported last week that as much as a third of single-family residential housing is now being snapped up by investors.

Big foreign investment firms that buy office buildings, hotels and shopping centers around the world have a new favorite real-estate play: single-family homes in American suburbs.

These institutions are partnering with U.S. housing companies to buy or build rental homes by the thousands. In suburban neighborhoods near cities such as Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix, blocks of families are sending monthly rent checks to ventures backed by Canadian pension funds, European insurers, and Asian or Middle Eastern government-run funds.

The overseas investors are following in the footsteps of many big U.S. investment firms and pension funds, which started buying single-family homes on a large scale in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

This may well explain the huge jump in prices over the last 12-18 months.

The situation is so bad it’s become a joke on TikTok and Twitter:

Speculation is doing to residential property what it did to oil prices before June 2008 when Congress passed legislation requiring an increase from 10% to 30% margin on options. Oil prices then dropped greatly, but not enough fast enough to prevent economic Jenga – many mortgages failed because homeowners had to choose between a tank of gas to get to work or making their house payment.

~ ~ ~

Now imagine the frustration of a prospective house buyer like [Friend] above. They’re a two-career household with a small family, which means they have car payments, childcare expenses which likely exceed car payments, and student loans they’ll be paying down for at least another decade if they are trying to juggle all these expenses.

They’ve scrimped and saved, kept their lifestyle minimal – not hard to do if you’ve had to weigh going to the movies on a date night against the cost of a babysitter and movie tickets – and they’ve amassed enough cash to put down 20% on a house and been pre-approved for a mortgage between $120,000 and $160,000. The higher end would be a push for them but sometimes the right house is a little pricier.

And then the dream for which they’ve scrimped and saved is gone in a heartbeat. As soon as they see the house on market they bid but they couldn’t counteroffer enough money fast enough and it’s gone.

Even in a pandemic with so many people out of work, the right house is gone.

It’s probably been sold to a speculator who will put it up for rent at a price which is the same as [Friend]’s mortgage payment would have been, but at that price there’s no room to save any extra money.

And that’s what it’s like in the Midwest. What’s it like in more densely-populated coastal states?

How do young people who are competing for jobs on a national basis, earning pay which doesn’t adjust all that much for location, buy a home and attain the American Dream?

They’re giving up children to do this, we can see that by the flat to falling birth rates.

A major one. The National Bureau of Economic Research says that the largest component of child-rearing costs is housing. And the cost of housing in America has skyrocketed. The median U.S. home in 1953 cost $18,080, or about $177,000 in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars. Today, the median home price is $301,000. Young people who cannot afford homes or even a two-bedroom apartment are less inclined to marry and to have children. One 2014 study published in the Journal of Public Economics explicitly linked housing costs to fertility, suggesting that for every $10,000 jump in housing values, fertility among nonowners fell 2.4 percent. Economists also point to the fact that the fertility rate has fallen every year since 2007, and suggest that the Great Recession compelled many Millennials to put off child-rearing for years. “What we learned from the Great Recession is that every 1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate reduces births by 1 percent,” said Wellesley College economics professor Phil Levine.

And in places like the greater San Francisco area they go homeless, living in their vehicles because they can’t afford rent *if* there’s rental housing available.

~ ~ ~

One solution to this mess is reducing student loan burdens. Getting tens of millions of young people out from underneath $50,000 and a decade or more of payments would free them to have children and/or buy a home.

I hesitate to say they may also save for retirement but it’s possible they’re not able to until they are out from under their student loans.

This problem may explain why so many young people have jumped at online trading apps like Robinhood, causing increased volatility in the stock market. They can get in with very little money, get out quickly, and do it all over again rapidly. It offers them a chance to increase their asset value though it does nothing for the overall stock market while compromising their personal data privacy.

But putting some portion of their meager savings in the stock market isn’t a solution — it’s far too risky, too easily gamed (hah, GameStop, get it?). It’s not a prudent approach to funding necessities.

Getting out from under student loan debt, though, would be a doable help with very little downside.

~ ~ ~

Removing at least part of student loan debt from younger consumers’ shoulders will act as an economic stimulus, too. Those who are able to end their loan payments will be able to spend more of their income on expenses they’ve deferred in addition to housing.

Employment should rise as demand increases, and a tighter employment market will help boost some if not all wages.

Which brings us to the section of the market which may not benefit directly from canceling student debt. Workers who make minimum wage or are employed in tipped hourly jobs can’t afford to buy the average home in the U.S.; they are struggling to pay rent let alone save a down payment. Many of them are students.

Do the math:

Minimum federal wage $7.25  x  40 hour week  x  52 weeks  =  $15,080 a year.

That’s nowhere near enough to make a payment on the median home priced at $301,000. It’s not enough for a tiny dump of a house at one-third of median price.

The equation above already contains numerous generous assumptions: the employee makes 1) minimum federal wage, 2) at a full-time job, 3) for the entire year. For most minimum wage workers, at least one of these three points doesn’t apply. Most employers who hire minimum wage workers avoid paying unemployment taxes by employing workers less than full time, which means a minimum wage worker must work two jobs (or more) to make $15,080.

Forget about it if the worker holds down a tipped hourly job; while in some cases tips can be quite good, the base wage in at least 16 states is $2.13 an hour. On a bad day it may cost a worker more to show up than they make if they pay for any form of transportation besides shoe leather or a bicycle.

The minimum wage must be raised if roughly 1.8 million Americans have any chance at saving a down payment on a house, let alone buying one. And if businesses aren’t already increasing wages now during pandemic market conditions, they’re not likely to do so unless they’re forced to by law.

~ ~ ~

Canceling a big chunk of student loan debt and raising the minimum wage will still not be enough to help tens of millions of Americans afford to buy their own home.

Once these folks have more disposable income and increase demand on the housing market, speculators will swamp the market even more so than they are right now.

(Domestic policy aside, it’s a marvelous way to ratchet up class conflict by locking out a couple generations of potential homebuyers if a hostile country’s sovereign fund was looking to both invest and destabilize the U.S. at the same time.)

Canada’s domestic housing policy encourages home owner occupancy of single family homes; speculative investment is far less than it is in the U.S. It hasn’t solved their housing market problems — Toronto housing is incredibly expensive — but it does reduce competition for homes.

There must be some form of legislation which reduces market demand by speculators so that the only participants in the single-family home market are single families.

There should be some limitation on speculation for multi-family housing so that rental properties remain affordable. Eliminating overseas buyers or funds is one possibility.

~ ~ ~

We’ll hear all kinds of caterwauling about how unfair it is that some students will have all their debt paid for them by canceling $50,000  while they had to pay for all their student’s education.

Bah. They can suck it up.

This month I finished shelling out a total of $200,000 for two kids to go to college. This doesn’t include what I’ve paid for their cell phone, health care insurance, and for the vehicles and auto insurance they’ve needed.

$200K covered tuition, books, fees and some of the housing and food for one kid on a half ride to a private school, and a kid at a Big 10 public university. Both kids worked throughout their four-year programs and paid for their own gasoline and rent off campus, along with some sundries.

Because of this investment in them I’ve got to come up with income for another seven-plus years to pay for my health care, but at least my kids have a fighting chance right now that most of their cohort don’t have. They don’t need to live at home with me to scrimp and save. They can move out out state and chase a better job.

But even with this investment in both of my kids it will take years for them to save enough to make a down payment on a home and have a 6-month cushion in the bank.

I don’t resent the fact they don’t have school loans which might be canceled. What I resent is that they don’t have the kind of world I had as a young adult, where if one worked hard they could make enough money to get ahead and expect a better life. (I do resent having to pay through the nose, five to ten times over what I paid for college, but that’s another matter.)

If housing prices jump 20-60% almost overnight, my kids don’t have that chance. They can’t expect their friends to uniformly have that chance, either, as [Friend]’s situation demonstrates.

If their entire cohort is stifled by student loan debt, wages stagnant for decades, and competition for housing from speculation, even steep parental investment isn’t enough to help them tread water.

And if all of their cohort of 20-somethings are stuck in the same boat, the entire economy is deeply skewed and screwed. Whatever assessment analysts are making of the stock market and the economy is manipulated by this iceberg of frozen, frustrated demand which cannot remain in stasis forever.

Something has to give.

We can start with canceling $50,000 student debt, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and eliminating overseas speculation from the housing market while limiting single-family homes to sales between occupants and their heirs.

Let Them Eat (Starbucks’ Coffee) Cake

A couple of older billionaire white dudes have been shooting off their mouths. One of them is partially clued in. The other one apparently lives on a different planet where the sky is a groovy coffee-colored plaid.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I point out these facts:

The links above include scolding by financial experts who say Americans need to do a better job of saving. But…

Don’t get me started on what college tuition and subsequent debt does to Americans’ ability to save.

We all know that health care costs have not improved and remain the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. even though more Americans have health insurance under ACA.

And rich older white dudes are completely, utterly, hopelessly out of touch about the financial facts of life for nearly half of Americans let alone the next 2-3 deciles.

Like Wilbur Ross — our Commerce Secretary who lied about his assets and clearly knows nothing about Americans’ daily commerce — struggled to comprehend why federal employees might need to use a food bank after missing a paycheck.

Just get a loan, Ross thinks. Sure, sure, banks give signature loans to people without any collateral let alone a source of income all the time. Come on, Wilbur: would you invest in a bank offering those kinds of terms to the average Joe/Josephine off the street?

And then there’s Trump, who thinks we can just ask the grocer to extend some credit for an unspecified period of time. Right — a nationwide grocery chain clearing 1-3% a year in profits can afford to extend credit.

So goddamned clueless he is. I’m only surprised he didn’t tell furloughed federal workers he’d give them a 5% discount to play golf at one of his courses during their free time.

76-year-old billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who thinks he’s still young enough to run for president in 2020, trashed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax proposal as “probably unconstitutional,” thereby revealing his brain’s atrophy. If taxing higher levels of income wasn’t unconstitutional under Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, then it probably isn’t unconstitutional.

And then Seattle coffee magnate Howard Schultz popped off at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ proposals to increase marginal tax rates on the uber-wealthy, calling her “a bit misinformed” and her proposal “un-American.”

Except the U.S. had higher tax rates on the wealthy, for most of the 20th century. The country could afford to build more infrastructure; it built a successful public school system and went to the moon. How nice for Schultz that he could grow up and become a young entrepreneur in that economic environment.

(Put a pin in here for future reference, as a reminder that Schultz not only called AOC “un-American” but Sen. Kamala Harris, too. It’s as if he has a problem with women of color…)

Schultz thinks he has become a billionaire all on his own, as if the increasingly fascist political system with its active suppression of younger, marginalized citizens played no role in his wealth accumulation.

As if the last two decades of stagnant wages due to employment monopsony, repressive Federal Reserve policies, and the real estate market haven’t helped line his pockets by assuring low-wage workers get locked in and unable to move to better paying jobs.

Schultz has been able to accumulate massive amounts of wealth on the backs of people who aren’t being paid living wages, out of the wallets of those whose limited resources allows them to buy a coffee but not a house or health care. He’s rolling in a sea of cash because minimum wage workers are living in little more than indentured servitude.

You know what’s really un-American?

An ungrateful and narrow-minded billionaire white dude who doesn’t think living wages and health care for everyone are fair, who thinks that higher taxes after his first $50 million are theft.

A purveyor of luxury beverage products unable to grasp the unselfish commitment it will take to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for all the people.

At least Bloomberg sees the danger Schultz’s presidential candidacy poses to this country.

But Schultz isn’t in it for the country’s benefit. He’s in the race for himself. It’s clear he’s done the number crunching and determined that it’s cheaper to run for POTUS even if he were to cause Trump to win re-election. (I’ll bet he’s even figured out how to write off his exploratory trips around the country as a business expense.)

Because the campaign expenses are less than the cost to his personal wealth if he were taxed at a higher rate and if he were also forced to pay living wages to his workers.

What a pity Schultz hasn’t calculated how much more overpriced, excessively roasted coffee minimum wage workers can buy if they didn’t have to worry about health care expenses on top of their rent.

 

Treat this as an open thread.

‘Look, You Can Live on Minimum Wage!’ Say Modern Slavers

[Sample budget via McDonald’s and VISA]

Jesus fecking Christ on a pogo stick. I can’t believe McDonald’s and VISA were stupid enough to put together this oh-so-helpful budget estimate showing how fast food workers can get by and still have money left over.

After looking it over, here’s my assessment: A couple corporations need to do drug testing among white-collar staff. Somebody had to be be out of their gourd to think this was accurate, let alone an effective marketing tool to promote their businesses.

As many folks have pointed out, an immediate glaring error on this ‘budget cheat sheet’ is the lack of heating/cooling expenses. Sure, some apartment complexes included HVAC in the rent they charge, but this can’t be assumed as a norm.

Every line item included is grossly flawed. I’ll look at three points:

1) First job’s NET salary of $1105 based on an estimated 21% income tax equals ~$1400 gross salary. Based on current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, that’s ~193 hours worked in a month, or ~44.6 hours a week.

This is NOT a part-time job. Most fast food jobs are deliberately limited to under 32 hours a week to avoid paying unemployment taxes or other benefits.

2) Second job’s NET salary of $955 — HAHAHAHAHAHAH Right. That’s another ~167 hours of labor per month at current federal minimum wage and 21% income tax rate.

To make this sample budget work, either two people MUST live together, MUST work a combined ~83 hours a week at current federal minimum wage. Or one person must do all this and simply have no time to do anything beyond eat/sleep/bathe/maybe laundry.

If two people lived together to make this budget work, they MUST share a tiny/cheap/ratty car, or hope like hell there’s public transportation which costs less than $150 a month to get to/from ~83 hours of work, grocery store, school, so on.

The rest of the assumptions in this budget are just plain trash. Like health insurance for two people versus one. Or savings of $100 which is really half that, spread between two people, as is the discretionary daily spending.

Some trollish account said, “But nobody stays at minimum wage forever! They get pay increases!” Sure…now person working First Job only has to work 43 hours a week instead of ~44.6. The average wage at McDonald’s is $8.25 — but does that include assistant managers and shift managers? Does this include people who’ve worked at McD’s for years? Let’s be real: most fast food workers are closer to the federal minimum wage.

Perhaps with pay increase a person working BOTH jobs only has to work ~80 hours a week instead of ~83. Give me a fucking break.

3) Transportation and insurance combined = $250 — HAHAHAHAHAHAH Right, again. I checked Progressive’s website calculator for insurance on a vehicle only, assuming a 2007 4-door Honda Civic, personal use, unmarried single male driver age 18-24 living alone, who lived in the same rented home for 1-3 years, had driven for more than 3 years, had insurance for 1-3 years, assuming a 20-year old male student living in Lansing, Michigan. Car insurance alone was $219 per month AND +$400 was required upfront before coverage began.

Maybe bundling renter’s insurance would help but the cost McDonald’s and VISA used in their example budget for insurance and a used car loan is simply unmoored from reality.

And perhaps insurance is cheaper in other parts of the country, but I will bet good money some other line item in that budget increases. Like the cost of an annual automobile license (higher in FL than MI) or a mandatory vehicle emissions test (required in CA but not MI).

Roughly 50% of Americans can’t get their hands on $400 cash for an emergency. Imagine if your insurer dropped you and you’re a fast food worker living to this prospective budget. That’s where VISA comes in with an opportunity to finance your emergency, compounding the stranglehold minimum wage has on your life.

God help you if you’re trying to put yourself through college without scholarships or family assistance. Even the imaginary example student attending Lansing Community College will pay more than $65,500 for four years. How long will it take to get through a four-year degree if one works ~83 hours a week? How long will it take to pay off school loans if one manages to break out of fast food service work after graduation — let’s say they double or triple their wages to $14.50 or $21.75 hour? This prospective student faces somewhere between 12 and 15 years of payments ranging from $950 to $1050 per month, and payments may begin as early as NOW while attending school at $650 per month.

You will be in debt for much of your adult life. There will be no extra money for anything.

Maybe the rare avocado toast, if you can find one marked down in the Damaged bin or live someplace warm where fallen avocados can be found for free. And maybe if you can afford bread this week.

“But millennials buying pricey iPhones!” some out-of-touch jackass might say. Let’s say you’re a fast food worker who might have to change housing at any time because rent has increased dramatically in your city. Even my example dude in innocuous Lansing faces a +7% increase in rent each year though his wages have been stagnant. Your entire life — telephone, computer, internet access, records, more — resides in a single, portable device. Of course you’ll pay more for a phone which hails a tow truck when your ratty little car breaks down, or finds you a quick cash gig (or a plasma blood bank) to pay for repairs. That phone is your lifeline, the lifesaver you can count on unlike white-collar jerk-offs who have no clue what you’re going through to survive.

And God help you if you get sick or injured. You can’t count on your elected officials to make sure you’ll be healthy enough to show up to work those ~83 hours a week.

Indentured servitude, without a contract, that’s what this budget reflects. Product marketing by modern slavers.

And they can’t understand why millennials are killing so many things like fast food businesses. They simply can’t afford them.