When I worked at Toys R Us I got paid $9 an hour. At a time when (now) minimum wage was still $7.25 I thought I was doing pretty good. There were maybe about 20-30 workers in total, and out of those workers there were probably only about 8-10 younger than me (I was 23 then) with everyone else much older than me. One of the most vivid memories I have from working at Toys R Us is during a closing shift when one of the supervisors, an older black woman, got a call that her house was on fire. Even though it was only like four of us closing the entire huge store that night, after she broke down about it we all agreed that she needed to go. I’ll never forget what she said through her crying: “How am I gonna get another house for my babies?” And only being paid $9 an hour…how could she?
When most people hear about the #FightFor15 they get angry. “How dare McDonald’s workers ask for $15 an hour to flip burgers?! They don’t even give me my order right!” “You don’t deserve $15!” “(insert respectable job here) doesn’t even get $15 an hour! Do you think you’re better than them?” “Go to school and get a real job!” I’ve never seen people get so angry at what other people do…okay that’s a lie but still, it is INSANE how angry and personally offended most people get because other people dare to live their lives differently. They ignore the fact that school and better opportunities aren’t afforded to everyone, and that some people's lives play out to where they CAN'T go to school, have a record, have kids, or just don't have the money to go. Hell the only way some of those same people get to school is because somebody sold drugs, kept they kids, or saved THEIR fast food checks to get them there. Some of them try to justify their feelings, and others just try to be shady and insulting (like machines couldn't one day replace us all), but either way the very thought that someone at the bottom of the totem pole may be paid better than them has people ready to start a war. We might as well start a Purge to satisfy some of these people.
Even when you get past the blatant classism and elitism in most of their complaints, there is still the big “But I go to school!” cry. I understand, trust, I do. When I was in my Masters program I worked two jobs: I had a teaching assistantship and I worked at Toys R Us. Why? I got paid $810 a month (about $730 after taxes), despite the fact that I taught two classes AND went to classes, and they expected me to live off that. With rent for student housing (the housing with bills included) being $599 I couldn’t even buy groceries and gas. Phone bill? Forget it. Grabbing a burger when I got home too late to cook? Good luck. Heaven forbid I had to buy books or supplies to teach. And I got off lucky. There were plenty of people who also had to pay insurance, car notes, and who knows what else. I was going about things “the right way”, so why was I still on food stamps? Why did I still have to work in the same “low end” jobs that I should be above by now? If I barely lived going to school and having an outside job, how could folks with only one do it?
THEY CAN'T. To argue anything else is foolish. I know what you're thinking. "Well, that was a struggle but you finished! You went to school and it pays off now!" Wrong. Adjunct instructors like me are one of the many groups of people affected by this country’s refusal to pay a living wage to its citizens. An adjunct instructor is basically a starting college instructor, and more and more we are the people who teach the majority of college classes. When you break down how much work adjuncts do to create and teach college three or more courses, our wages come out to about minimum wage. Even now I work two jobs to pay all my bills and live fairly comfortably, and there are still instructors with PhDs who do the same. Yes, that’s right, there are people with the highest possible level of education making about $20,000 a year to teach students how to do jobs that will pay them three or four times what they are paid. Despite what the media would have you believe, the Fight for 15 could help a lot of important people and not just fast food workers. But even if it did only help fast food workers, who are we to deny these people the right to live?
I have seen a lot of argument against raising minimum wage. Some feel like the economy will collapse (as if it hasn’t already) if we raise pay. Some still hold onto that elitism about having gone to college like it’s the money they wish they were making with their degrees, despite the fact that a simple Google search could show you that college isn’t always worth it. Many will fight tooth and nail against people getting paid more for services they need, like education, travel or food, but sit back and praise people who get paid ludicrous amounts to "entertain" them. It’s quite sad that we are all so caught up in “I deserve this and you don’t because you didn’t do what I did” that we are willing to literally starve about half the population. It’s sad and it’s pathetic; we are supposed to be a nation of higher morals and righteous beliefs, but we are unwilling to help the next person out because we are afraid that they might end up on our level. It is the epitome of the crab in a barrel mentality and it is a class war that we all are participating in. I ask all of you who are so dead set against raising minimum wage why you feel that way. Are you scared that the Dollar Menu will disappear? Angry that the major and school you chose only to “get rich” might not do that? Or do you really believe that people don’t deserve to get as much money as you because of their life choices? If it’s that last one, I dare you to look your server at your favorite restaurant, the cashier who rings up your groceries, the maintenance man who fixes your sink, the secretary at the doctor’s office, or your child’s college instructor and tell them that they don’t deserve to eat. You might not think those people deserve a living wage, but I guarantee you if they weren’t living you would be S.O.L.
How do you feel about the #FightFor15? Tell some of your struggles with minimum wage, and leave any other questions, comments or concerns you have below. Don't forget to like, share and subscribe as well!