My partner got a ride into town yesterday to do some grocery shopping, and when he got to the store, he saw a long line of people leading into the store from almost halfway down the block. Turns out the store had advertised three minimum wage positions, and word got around quickly. They didn’t even have to put an ad in the paper; a sign outside the store was all it took for hundreds of people to show up!
People around here are so desperate for work that even bagging groceries or stocking shelves for minimum wage is looking real good. Given California’s high cost of living and out-of-control rents (which, btw, have only gotten worse because the foreclosure crisis increased demand for rentals), these jobs don’t even pay enough to cover the most basic necessities. But job openings have become so rare in recent years that any time a position becomes available, the response is huge.
My partner put in an application too. Getting a regular paycheck every two weeks would be enormously comforting. It’s incredibly stressful and frightening to barely scrape by as a freelancer. Every month we’re terrified that we won’t make enough money to cover our basic expenses. While it’s usually possible to delay a past-due bill for a month, doing so makes things even tougher the following month when there’s an extra bill to pay. We’re constantly teetering on the brink of total disaster, while necessary medical and dental care is put off indefinitely. We just can’t afford it. This job won’t change that, but it would provide some security and remove some of the stress that is taking a toll on our relationship.
Unfortunately my partner has little hope of being hired due to a lack of extensive retail experience. Being overqualified won’t help either. There were literally hundreds of applications for those three positions, and there are bound to be some applicants with grocery store experience.
So much for those ignorant fools who think the “lazy” unemployed can just go out and get a minimum wage job if they really want to work. Competition for minimum wage jobs is HUGE! There are way more applicants than jobs. Of course not all of yesterday’s minimum wage hopefuls are even unemployed. Many are already working part-time or trying to pick up a second full-time job because one minimum wage job won’t pay the bills.
That’s the thing with poor people in California: Most of us work. In almost 70% of California households existing below the federal poverty line (which is grossly inadequate as a measurement of poverty in California because of our state’s unusually high cost of living) at least one person is gainfully employed. The numbers are even higher when the poverty index is adjusted to reflect California’s cost of living. While slightly more than half of working Californians living below the federal poverty line are underemployed, working less than 40 hours per week (usually not by choice), almost half are working 40-60+ hours a week.
As I’ve said before, there’s something very wrong with a country in which millions of full-time workers live in poverty, particularly when the executives and shareholders of the companies that employ them get richer every year. Workers have no recourse against this type of economic exploitation, because we have no bargaining power. As yesterday’s experience illustrates, people are so desperate for work, they’ll stand in line for hours in the 110 degree heat in hopes of scoring a no benefits, minimum wage job. Why would they do that? Because that’s all there is. Better jobs aren’t available.
Since employers refuse to compensate workers fairly, government action is required. There are a number of different ways the government could rectify the situation. Unfortunately our elected representatives have no interest in doing any of those things because they’re financed by the people who benefit from the economic exploitation. The people who own everything also own our politicians, while those who own nothing have nothing with which to buy influence. And so we go, full steam ahead on the express train to becoming a banana republic. Oh, we’ve been heading there for a while, but during the last decade no one is even bothering to put on the brakes anymore.