In this week's issue, Saki Knafo looks at the plight of America's working poor through the eyes of one young man struggling to build a career in the fast food industry.
Lost in the hubbub of each month's job reports is one startling fact, one with major consequences for America's economic future: since the Great Recession officially came to an end, lower-wage jobs have far outnumbered jobs that allow workers to build a solid middle-class lifestyle. Joseph Barrera has one of those low-wage jobs. A 22-year-old son of Ecuadoran immigrants, he works at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Brooklyn, making $7.25 an hour while living rent-free in his uncle's basement. Like many fast food workers, Joseph started as a cashier. After a time, he was promoted to shift supervisor, bringing him more responsibilities, but not more money, as his managers never paid him the accompanying raise they had promised. As Saki writes, "Despite the American truism about hard work being the key to success, more and more working people are effectively trapped in poverty-wage jobs with few opportunities for advancement." For Joseph, that truism came in many forms: from the encouragement of his parents and grandparents; from his bosses at KFC, who motivated him with the possibility that one day he might take over his own store; and from the company's marketing department, with its promise of helping workers go from "finger lickin' good to GREAT!"
As Saki notes, companies frequently invoke the American Dream in their public relations rhetoric. And many of these companies are doing quite well -- between 2007 and 2010, KFC's profits rose by 45 percent. But the reality is that people like Joseph Barrera are not sharing in any of those profits. As Dorian Warren, a sociology professor at Columbia University who studies low-wage work, puts it, "People often talk about how we're transitioning to a new economy. But we're there already."
Elsewhere in the issue, since last week marked the launch of our newest international edition, The Huffington Post Japan, we're featuring photos from our tour of the gardens, temples and shrines of Kyoto. Our stress-reduction coverage this week includes quotations from very productive people about the benefits of slowing down, and a delicious recipe that underscores the pleasures of slow cooking. And for Mother's Day, we're featuring John Montorio's tribute to his mother, recounting a gift she gave him when he was 18 that set him on a lifetime of cultural exploration.
This story appears in Issue 48 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, May 10.