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Leslie K. Stein Headshot

A Summer Job vs. A Living Wage

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A summer job at McDonald's/fastfood was supposed to be for high school kids to earn a little extra money for gas, pizza or a movie while learning a little something about responsibility and the world outside of their sheltered, protected world. A minimum wage job was never intended for full-time workers in their forties, fifties, and sixties, but times have wildly changed, and not necessarily in a good way. The average age of a minimum wage fast-food employee is 29 years old. Most internships available for college students are unpaid and still so hard to get.

Just as Social Security was to supplement one's retirement -- not be the total retirement plan -- minimum wage jobs were not intended to be long-term careers. The average McDonald's worker receives $8.75 / hour while McDonald's CEO received $8,750,000 salary / year... That's over 2,187,500 Big Macs just to pay the CEO. We should be ashamed. All while executive management works to quash unionizing efforts, schedules workers for under 30-hour work weeks to avoid paying health and other benefits, and threatens firing workers who strike or complain, as reported on here at The Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, MSNBC, and many other sources. And what's worse the taxpayers are subsidizing these companies who are not paying a living wage by having taxpayers cover workers with SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid (healthcare), and even subsidizing the CEO's salary through loopholes in the tax code.

Reports show that the minimum wage could be doubled by increasing the price of a Big Mac by $.68. Paying $.46 more at Walmart per trip increases the minimum paid to their workers to $12 / hour. Or if you care more about worker's safety in places like Bangladesh, adding approximately $.90 to the cost of a pair of jeans at Walmart, Target, the GAP and so many more stores will save a life by improving working conditions.

There is no proof that raising the minimum wage will lead to higher unemployment or inflation, as fear-mongers will warn. What is fact is that when people who have mounting bills to pay make more money, all the extra proceeds will be re-directed back into the economy and spent. This stimulates the economy, not hurts it. The GAO states that for every dollar people on SNAP or near poverty receive, they pump $1.46 into the economy. That's a very good rate of return for the economy.

The purpose for teenagers to get summer jobs was more than just getting the feeling of independence and pride felt for making gas money. It is about learning responsibility. It is about getting a feel for the workplace. It's about learning to deal with others, and working within deadlines, and showing up on time, and understanding customer service, and measuring and delivering quality, and feeling like you accomplished something for completing a day's work. Working a summer job will also allow a teen to see that there is more to life outside of their little world. This new experience could be pivotal in guiding someone to stay in school, or pursue a certain type of career. I was very lucky. I worked manufacturing. That gave me great insight to the career path I pursued.

Summer jobs were really fun for just meeting new people and making new friends. That summer job is more important than ever considering the out-of-control cost of higher education and school loans, but now, unemployment among teens is over 25 percent nationally and almost 50 percent for minority teens. We need more millions more real, old-fashioned full-time jobs with benefits for so many. Kids need jobs. People need a living wage. We are letting our kids down. We are doing them a dis-service and we need to do better.