Lately there's been a flurry of activity from the one percent trying to set the record straight about what's really important. The underlying message in this latest public relations blitz seems to be that the rest of us have it all wrong and whatever we think is going on is nothing more than a bunch of rumors coming from a few misguided loud mouths.
The economy is doing great; jobs are plentiful if you just know where to look; men need to man up, suck it up, and stop whining; and if you would just stop relying on people who are better and smarter than you we could all go back to happy times.
Gawker recently published a monthly "budget planner" that McDonalds and Visa collaborated on, purportedly to help McDonald employees better survive on the amount they are paid - $1,105/month. It's basically, a "How to live on the lousy wages we're paying you," guide for the average burger flipper.
McDonalds' sample budget comes already filled in to help you get you started and comes complete with a line item conveniently called "Income (2nd Job)." The main ingredient to surviving on a McDonald,s 40-hours-per-week paycheck is getting a second job. That and finding an apartment for $600 that costs a mere fifty dollars to heat every month.
Gawker was good enough to provide a video ridiculing the budget:
The Atlantic covered the budget as well, calling it "a gesture of goodwill gone haywire." Both Gawker and The Atlantic pull information from an article by Jim Cook at Irregular Times, which states:
That $1,105 figure for monthly income isn't just some arbitrary sample figure. It comes from somewhere ... the average McDonalds pay for a cashier or crew member is $7.72 an hour, a few pennies above minimum wage.
That being said, McDonalds' own sample budget confirms that, without a second job on top of full-time work at McDonalds, the personal budget can't possibly work -- even if you don't eat or pay for heat in the winter.
You can do it. McDonalds can help. If you get that second job, take a roommate or six, and are willing to chip through the ice in the toilet in the morning to pee, you can live a happy life serving the public.
To McDonald's credit, the $7.72 average is a healthy and generous 47 cents above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 - 19 other states including DC set theirs higher however.
Speaking of DC, Walmart, another bastion of fair pay, recently had a little ruckus in the nation's capital when the retailer caught wind that the city council was in the process of enacting The Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would force companies with sales greater than $1 billion and occupying large box-store properties (like Walmart) to pay a minimum wage of $12.50. Walmart's reaction was to stop work on three stores under construction in the state and to cancel plans for three more.
Walmart has also been quick to assist its employees forced to live on the wages they're paid - an average of $8.81 per hour. They offer employees assistance in asking for assistance. Federal assistance. Taxpayer subsidized assistance, ranging from $900,000 to $1.75 million per store. That's Welfare, Medicaid, and Food Stamps to name a few. For a complete list and break down of taxpayer subsidies Walmart employees are applying for read "New Report Shows How Walmart Forces Its Employees to Live on the Dole" over at Mother Jones.
Walmart's response to all of this has been to beef up their ads with tales of happy customers, happy truck drivers and Nathaniel, a 19-year-old African American who sees real opportunity at Walmart in the form of a future from his current gig stocking shelves to opportunities as an IT professional or an engineer with Walmart. Maybe he'll even work as a greeter well into retirement while his friends are vacationing in Aruba.
The real kicker and my personal favorite is a $200,000 video produced by Charles Koch in which, among other things, the topic is about how lucky we all are to be Americans. Why? Well, because if you make more than $34,000 a year you can count yourself in the top 1 percent of the world. And that, as the ad concludes, "is economic freedom." Never mind that Charles Koch is worth literally 1 million times that at $34 billon and that most of the other people in the world who are living in poverty are concerned about being eaten by wild animals or dying of famine and disease.
Koch is also working against the minimum wage. Probably having realized just how much $34,000 really is in the grand scheme of things he thought, why should we get all the benefits that come with such a lavish lifestyle that kind of money can afford us?
In an interview with the Wichita Eagle, Koch said:
We want to do a better job of raising up the disadvantaged and the poorest in this country, rather than saying 'Oh, we're just fine now.' We're not saying that at all. What we're saying is, we need to analyze all these additional policies, these subsidies, this cronyism, this avalanche of regulations, all these things that are creating a culture of dependency. And like permitting, to start a business, in many cities, to drive a taxicab, to become a hairdresser. Anything that people with limited capital can do to raise themselves up, they keep throwing obstacles in their way. And so we've got to clear those out. Or the minimum wage. Or anything that reduces the mobility of labor.
Watch the video, it really is a hoot:
With every article attacking this behavior comes other articles and commenters who, somehow and with great delusion, wax nostalgic about the good ole days when they survived on pennies. Generally, as a result, they are a better person for it. Their children are better people for it and have gone on to live happy productive lives. Society as a whole has benefited from their frugality and they have single handedly made America the greatest country in the world. If only the rest of us could learn from them we wouldn't have all of these moochers sucking from the government teat.
Forbes had a cute article titled, "It's About Time Walmart Waged An Ad Campaign Like This One," in which Dale Buss nearly wets himself singing the praises of the ads previously mentioned in this article. He writes:
It's one thing to be known as the king of everyday low prices, which has been Walmart's positioning with U.S. consumers for decades. But these ads collectively make a broader and more comprehensive argument for the tremendous net positive that Walmart remains for the American economy.
Nowhere in the article does Buss, writing for a magazine primarily about and for the 1 percent, mention the $900,000 to $1.75 million per store being sucked out of taxpayer's pockets to subsidize Walmart's employees. Nor does he mention the billions of dollars in taxes that Walmart has evaded over the years. All money that could have been better spent on the roads and bridges those happy truck drivers use.
Timothy B. Lee, a Forbes alumni and writing for the Washington Post, makes a pretty feeble attempt to defend the MacDonald budget in, "That McDonald's budget people are making fun of isn't cruel. It's realistic." It's worth the read just for the laughs and the genuinely condescending tone from someone who sees the budget as reasonable and goes so far as to defend employees going without health insurance:
So even a young, healthy person will have to pay $100 or more for an individual health insurance policy in most circumstances. Perhaps McDonalds is tacitly admitting that many low-income workers, including McDonalds employees, can't afford health insurance and simply make do without it.
Maybe they can make do without cancer too? We could all make do without getting sick or getting into an accident, but do we have to?
There will be commenters who will go on about the suffering that made them stronger and how they lived well on $850 per month and want us all to applaud their strength and resolve, like this comment from Facebook:
I lived on about $850 a month while working my way though (sic) college. This budget is more than adequate. People just really need to rethink what "necessities" actually are. I split an apartment with two other people, cooked all my healthy meals at home, grocery shopped at Aldi's, had a $2,000 Honda i drove for 250,000 miles, kept the heat at 63 in the winter, didn't bother with cable, had a basic cell phone plan, etc., etc., etc... I knew what my means were and I lived within them. I guess I didn't pay for health insurance because I was covered under my father's plan while in school, but other than that I took care of everything on that list and lived comfortably. You don't need luxury items and technology to live comfortably.
There are more comments like this and they all leave out that this probably all took place in the 1930's, or while they were in Peace Corp, or while daddy was paying for college. It wasn't happening while they were married and had kids. They weren't forking over healthcare premiums for their family. And apparently in their world, no one got sick, cars never broke down, and there were no layoffs or Wall Street geniuses blowing up the economy and causing millions of people to lose their jobs and their homes. Sign me up.
Fox News had a segment a couple of years ago about poor people, in which Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs sneered at what's considered poor in this country. Here's a segment of that conversation:
O'REILLY: Eight-two percent have a microwave. This is 82 percent of American poor families. Seventy-eight percent have air conditioning. More than one television, 65 percent. Cable or satellite TV, 64 percent -- thank God.
DOBBS: Amen, brother.
O'REILLY: Cell phones, 55 percent. Personal computer, 39 percent. And as we said, that's a 6-year-old consumption survey, so these numbers are way up. So how can you be so poor and have all this stuff?
So, if you don't look like you're living in the Dust Bowl during the Depression, you're not poor, is that it?
O'Reilly, in true form, continues:
But there is a reason for poverty in America. There's almost always a reason attached to poverty. And it's not the capitalist system's fault. It's usually personal responsibility or something like that.
Thankfully David Brooks from, of all places, the New York Times, has an answer for this. According to Brooks it's because men in this country are no longer willing to take humiliating jobs. They simply aren't willing to do what it takes to bring in the dough.
Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating. A high school student doesn't want to persist in a school where he feels looked down on. A guy in his 50s doesn't want to find work in a place where he'll be told what to do by savvy young things.
This sort of commentary on the American male is, of course, coming from a guy who gets wads of cash thrown at him for putting in a few hours of work every day sitting at a desk.
Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone puts it this way in a recent rebuttal blog post:
Hmm. Men don't want to be put in positions they find humiliating? How many men out there today are working as telemarketers? As collections agents? How many grown men are working in fast-food restaurants, getting yelled at by people like Brooks when they put the wrong McNugget sauce in the take-out bag?
It's as though not a day goes by without some rich, triple-chinned, over fed asshole offering advice about how the poor and what's left of the middle can improve their plight. It almost always involves some billionaire explaining to the rest of us that if they paid us more they couldn't continue to be in business and therefore couldn't provide the jobs that we can't live on. If the rest of us would simply apply ourselves, the good times would be right around the corner. Meanwhile, we keep getting fed the same line about the more money the people at the top get, the more they can send some our way. It's BS.
You'll get no argument from me that people should live within their means, budget accordingly, and that personal responsibility is paramount to success. However, I find it disgusting and ludicrous that individuals with incredible and sometimes obscene means can advocate that other hardworking adults with full time jobs should accept that they can't afford shelter, heat, and food in a country that afforded them the very means to deny others a living wage.
What's unsettling about all of these examples is the level of delusion and sociopathic thought that went into some of these concepts. It's not about enabling people to live better, it's about convincing people that this is as good as it gets and that they should accept that. After all, you're better off than that family of five living in a house with a dirt floor and dung walls. Those poor bastards are worried about being eaten by a lion. You're not going to be eaten by a lion are you? Thank the Koch brothers and the Waltons for that.
It says, unabashedly to the rest of us, "I got here because I'm smarter, better, and more deserving than you. You will never get here, because I won't let you, so suck it up cupcake. And yes, I want fries with that."
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