Life on $7.25 an Hour

From The New York Times:

Published: November 28, 2013

On a recent Friday evening, Eduardo Shoy left work at 6 p.m. Mr. Shoy, a deliveryman for KFC and Pizza Hut, was coming off an eight-hour shift of driving three-cheese pies and crispy chicken fingers, in an automotive blur, to private homes and businesses in central Queens.

Now it was the weekend and he was headed home. He parked his car in the little alley lot behind his house and, passing through the door, he kicked his shoes off, donned a pair of slippers and prepared a mug of tea. He sat down with his television set and ate the box of chicken he had brought back from the restaurant. Within an hour, remote control beside him, still dressed in his uniform, he had drifted off to sleep.

If Mr. Shoy were differently employed, he might have remained that way till morning. But as a fast-food worker paid the minimum wage — $7.25 an hour in New York — he didn’t have the luxury. At 10 p.m., he was up again and back in his car, this time driving to his second job, as a forklift operator at Kennedy International Airport, where he makes $13 an hour. Having worked all day, he was about to work all night: from 11 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. At 3 that afternoon, he would return to his deliveries at the restaurant. Then, at 11, he would once again drive to the airport.

Altogether, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, Mr. Shoy would sleep for 13 hours and work for 44. “Tired?” he asked, sounding puzzled by the question. “I’m too busy to be tired.”

THERE ARE 55,000 fast-food workers in New York — more than the entire population of Harrisburg, Pa. — and most, like Mr. Shoy, are struggling to stitch together a living in an industry where the median wage is $8.90 an hour. Last year, fast-food workers in Manhattan earned average pay of $19,000 — or about the cost of Mr. Shoy’s Honda. In Brooklyn, it was $15,500; on Staten Island, less.

Since 2000, the number of fast-food jobs in New York City has increased by more than 50 percent — 10 times as fast as in any other type of private job. But the conspicuous increase has not received the attention given, say, to the city’s high-tech industry, nor has it lessened the financial insecurities of this growing work force.

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Global Elites Getting Nervous About Skyrocketing Inequality (But Won’t Spare a Nickel to Fix It)

From Alternet

There’s a lot of handwringing, but will elite anxiety bring any changes?

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
December 2, 2013

Global elites are getting a bit antsy these days.

A new study by the World Economic Forum based on a survey of 1,592 leaders from academia, business, government, and the non-profit world suggests that all is not cheery at the top. It seems that elites believe that the second biggest problem facing Planet Earth in 2014 is widening income disparities (unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is their top worry). When it comes to economic issues, elites and ordinary folks are often at odds, but according to a recent Pew survey, they converge on identifying the gap between rich and poor as a major flaw in the system.

What’s clear is that the schemes elites have supported, from austerity policies to financial predation, are driving inequality to such extreme levels that everybody is now talking about it. The Pope is talking about it. Robert Reich made a movie about it. All over the world, people having been protesting and rioting in rolling demonstrations about it. An ugly resurgence of fascist elements in Europe is capitalizing on it. Even folks like Larry Summers, who promoted policies that stoke inequality, are publicly lamenting it.

The global elites are sittting on piles of obscene wealth, but they also have two big problems:

  1. Soft demand: When people are too poor to buy goods and services, businesses suffer and the whole economy lags.
  2. Prospects of increasing social unrest: When people are so squeezed that they think they have nothing to lose by taking to the streets, the wealthy have to hide behind barricades.

The global situation is crazy and probably unstable, and the 0.01 percent knows it. The question is, what are they prepared to do about it?

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McDonald’s offers its low-wage workers advice on how much to tip their pool cleaners

From Daily Kos:

Laura ClawsonFollow for Daily Kos Labor
Dec 06, 2013

McDonald’s is really having trouble with the first rule of holes. Facing bad publicity over an employee helpline telling workers to apply for government assistance and an employee tips website offering budget advice like selling belongings on eBay, McDonald’s has just kept digging. The fast food chain added a holiday tipping guide to that website, only to remove it after CNBC described the content:

The tipping guide from etiquette maven Emily Post on McDonald’s website lists several high-ticket suggestions for givers during the holiday season, including “a gift from your family (or one week’s pay), plus a small gift from your child” for an au pair, “one day’s pay” for a housekeeper and “cost of one cleaning” for a pool cleaner.The site also lists suggestions for dog walkers, massage therapists and personal fitness trainers.

McDonald’s workers are a lot more likely to be coming at this from the other side of the equation, working second jobs cleaning pools, doing child care, or cleaning houses and hoping for tips themselves rather than trying to figure out how much to give. It’s really starting to seem like McDonald’s upper management needs Emily Post to give them advice on how much to tip their drug dealers—I don’t know what they’re smoking, but it must be powerful stuff if they think their minimum wage or barely above workers have massage therapists and pool cleaners.

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Michael Pollan: Bad food is costing America its economic health

From Salon:

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” author on diabetes’ strain on Obamacare, and why our eating habits are worse than ever

, Earth Island Journal
Sunday, Dec 8, 2013

Michael Pollan’s garden lives up to expectations. There is, naturally, a vegetable patch. He’s got a couple of well-loved stalks of lacinato kale, a few unruly tomato plants piled above a clump of basil. The borders are eco-stylish for the microclimate of Berkeley, California: a mix of native grasses and drought-tolerant succulents, blue on purple. One corner is dedicated to cooking equipment – there’s a gas grill and a wood smoker, too. The yard resembles Pollan’s own prose. It says a lot in a small amount of space.

Our interview took place in early autumn. The wisteria vine climbing the front of the house had gone to seed, and every once in a while the long, brown pods snapped open with a crack. “They don’t just fall, they explode,” Pollan warned, joking, “they could hurt somebody.” A small, black, feral cat nosed about the BBQ gear. Pollan said he had tried to domesticate it, but that it has resisted his advances.

The feral cat seemed, in classic Pollan form, a tidy, little symbol for something bigger – in this case a symbol for the predictably strange relationship between humans and the natural world, which has been an enduring theme of Pollan’s 25-year career. Pollan is best known as a food journalist. But his primary interest is something deeper: the question of how to balance our civilization’s drive for control with nature’s insistence on wildness. Pollan’s first book, the precocious Second Nature, was a profound meditation on humans’ place in the world, disguised as a book about rose care and lawn maintenance. He followed that with the often-hilarious The Botany of Desire and the blockbuster The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This consistently provocative and entertaining body of work has earned Pollan huge praise, including a place on Time’s list of the most influential people on the planet.

Having established himself as an authority on food and agriculture, Pollan now has to navigate the challenges of being both a journalist and an advocate. He’s managed to do this, he says, through a commitment to always being fair, especially to those with whom he disagrees. “To sympathize – that’s part of the job of the journalist,” he says.

It’s a value, come to think of it, that one often learns in the garden.

— Jason Mark

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