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Working minimum wage made me want to become a lawyer

Today, thousands of minimum wage workers all over the country went on strike to protest the minimum wage they are being paid.  The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour of labor.  The strikers are demanding more than double that at $15.00 per hour.

The common striking phrase has been: “We can’t survive on $7.25 an hour.”

What these undereducated citizens are missing is that they aren’t supposed to.

I come from over six years in the restaurant business.  Most of that time was spent frying fish, fries and hushpuppies.  I started off at the minimum wage of the time, $5.15 per hour, and had to earn my raises .10-.15 cents at a time until I got close to $9.00.  Getting grease burns, cleaning toilets and working nights and weekends was not a bad job for high school and college.  But I knew that I wanted something different for my future.  Because of a supportive family (and the assistance of federally-backed student loans), I was able to go through college and law school and become a lawyer.  Not everyone will have that opportunity.  But thankfully I did. 

In my fry cook experience, anyone willing to work hard in the food industry has opportunities available to them.  There are a limitless number of available assistant and shift manager positions for wages two-four times higher than that of cooks.  Likewise, many restaurant chains, (especially casual dining as opposed to fast food chains) pay their general managers six digits.  Any manager position in the service industry is hard.  Managers run restaurants, which is all-the-more difficult with low-skilled workers that simply don’t care about excellence.  It falls to the assistant managers to do the best with what they have.

It takes some level of skill.  But a cook or cashier can essentially be trained during their first shift. 

The point is, is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, if you work hard, opportunities become available.  Every restaurant is looking for good help.  They’re seeking people who can be trusted with cash.  They’re looking for people that work hard and put customer service first. 

It is strange to see people striking for pay increases at the entry level.  The work that those in our service industry do is hard and it is noble, but it is low-skilled.  Some amount of injustice will always exist, however in nine out of ten cases, a worker stuck at minimum wage is there because he is in some fixable way, ineffective.  Today, strikers talked about how much harder cooks work than the heads of the corporations.  This is strange talk.  If people worked harder and smarter they would move ahead in life.  Only a person small-minded enough to stay at minimum wage would believe that they deserve what the boss makes.

We all wish we could receive higher wages.  In fact, I am constantly working, making myself more marketable, reading books and articles to make me better at my job and moving forward in my career.  I get it.  Life is hard and it is even harder when you have a family.  But employers don’t owe fast food cooks arbitrary raises.  McDonald’s cheeseburgers are good, I eat them too often.  But most of the allure comes from its $1.29 price tag.  I wouldn’t buy that cheeseburger if the price was $3.99.  And stockholders wouldn’t buy McDonald’s stock if the profit margins were negligible.  Highly successful businesses such as Starbucks can afford to charge $5 for a cup of fancy coffee and pass some of those profits on to their employees.  But this strategy is inconsistent with the penny-pinching that goes on in most restaurant chains.

It is shameful to see people demanding higher pay in entry-level, un-skilled positions.  No one can support a family on $7.25 an hour.  But they aren’t supposed to.  Entry-level hourly jobs shouldn’t be careers.  That is why it should be used as a stepping stone to get through school, gain experience in the industry for future opportunities or to climb the ladder in a business one is already in.  These people need to get back to work and MAKE their lives better, rather than asking others to do it for them.  If they stopped waiting for people to help them out, they may realize what I realized – that I could do better and that my work ethic transferred to more skilled labor.

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