September 28, 2015

DAVIS | Burger Flippers and What They Deserve

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As the Fight For 15 movement has gained notoriety and momentum here in the U.S., it has predictably drawn some sharp criticism from right-wing circles. The wage demanded by the movement is clearly a drastic enough increase from the current $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage to shock people into forming strong opinions.

One trope which has emerged from the backlash against the movement is that of the “burger flipper.” One does need to look far to see this figure make an appearance in angry opinion pieces, rambling Facebook statuses or rambling Facebook statuses featuring angry opinion pieces.

We know a few things about our imaginary burger flipper: his job is unskilled, his job is easy (see also: his job is easier than that of a member of the armed forces), if he just works hard enough, he’ll find better-paying, skilled employment elsewhere and he absolutely does not, under any circumstances, deserve to be paid $15.00 an hour for flipping burgers.

Now let’s pause for a second to examine just how ridiculous this rhetoric is. We can leave out the fact that so much low-wage work is not easy, basic labor, or the fact that so many of the people who occupy low-wage positions lack the socioeconomic mobility to find better-paying, more skilled employment. Let’s instead focus on the absurdity of so many middle- and upper-class people shouting down at those who perform the necessary labor of low-wage jobs about what they “deserve.” So many of the same people who spout classist (and racist) rhetoric about “welfare queens” now want to shame those poor people who do have jobs about the kind of jobs they have. Not only are those who can’t find employment deemed unworthy of support, but those who can only find menial employment are deemed unworthy of a living wage.

So what do these “burger flippers” deserve? They deserve whatever it takes to ensure a comfortable standard of living for themselves and their dependents. They deserve enough resources to help their children attain one of those more venerated, better-paying positions that require college degrees or technical certifications. They deserve, simply, to not have to be condemned to poverty because their job isn’t prestigious enough.

There should be one argument and one argument only against the movement for a higher minimum wage: that the minimum wage increase will end up doing more harm than good to workers, and that other measures to alleviate poverty are preferable. The economists who research such things for a living can debate the validity of that argument, but in the meantime, we should rid ourselves of the shallow, classist rhetoric of “burger flipper” think pieces and Facebook rants. Workers shouldn’t be denied a living on the basis that their work isn’t “worthy.”