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Most of us have a tendency to stereotype certain professions.  Doctors, lawyers, police, bankers, artists, teachers, firefighters, plumbers.  For many of us, these words conjure mental images beyond the basic job description.  Some of those mental images might vary from person to person, depending on experience.  If your interactions with police have been minimal or you had positive experiences with them, you might have a mental image of a kind, helpful person who is boldly protecting and serving the public.  If you had bad experiences with the police, your mental image of them might not be so flattering.

Having known many types of people from many different walks of life, I try to avoid labeling individuals according to profession (or any other superficial characteristic, but this is about profession).  Sure, sometimes it turns out that the shoe fits, but often it doesn’t.

Society also seems to choose to label as “unskilled”– and then look down on– a handful of professions.  Many conservative communities (like the one in which I was raised) consider stripping to be an unskilled profession fraught with fallen/wicked/unclean/uneducated temptresses who made terrible life choices– without ever realizing how many of the dancers are just paying their way through college.  And, most of their clientele would probably argue that they aren’t “unskilled”.

The recent fast food strike has brought one of my own biases to the surface, so now I am going to nip it in the bud.

When the demand for a $15 per hour wage was announced, like a lot of people, my initial knee-jerk reaction was to wonder why they deserve so much when others who went to college and are working hard are still not making that amount.  But this reaction is based on some incorrect assumptions.

First, it assumes fast food workers are uneducated and/or unskilled, which is incorrect to assume.  Perhaps most do not have college degrees, but it absolutely takes some skill to deal with the public in a high volume setting, handle the cash and inventory accurately and honestly, and prepare food without making anyone ill.

The next assumption is more insidious.  It is the assumption that if someone is less educated or less skilled, their labor is somehow of even less value than what it takes to earn a living.  For many, the rationale goes something like… “Since even *I* am not making that much money even after working so hard and going to college, *their* work must be worth even less. And *I* have all those student loans to pay off, after all!”– which not only assumes *they* aren’t working as hard and have fewer financial obligations, it also assumes *I* am being paid fairly, when *I* am probably underpaid too!

Should you pay more to your accountant who went to a reputable university, or to the high school kid who is failing everything except gym?  I suppose it depends on which job you want done.  If you need help moving heavy stuff, the kid is probably your best bet.  But don’t hire him to do your bookkeeping unless he can save you enough money to hire a lawyer later.  Whose work is worth more?  It depends what you need to move, but probably the accountant’s work, usually… partly because there are so few great accountants and so many high school kids flunking everything except gym.  So, yes, there is– and should be– some difference in pay, according to demands/needs and one’s ability to meet those needs.

Don’t worry, rich people!  I still think you’re great.  And I’d say that even if you weren’t the only ones in the current economy who can still afford my original paintings.

But how much is enough?  If the high school kid grows up to work in fast food instead of becoming a personal trainer, does he deserve to be kept in poverty by low wages, while the company executives are making record salaries?  If I buy a cheeseburger, how much of that money goes to the person who actually cooked it?  And, at that moment, which did I need more– someone who knows how to cook, or someone who does the bookkeeping?  Do I want the person handling my food to be happy and healthy because he is well-paid and can afford decent health care, or do I want him to be bitter and unhappy because he works a full week in a hot kitchen and still can’t afford even the basics?  Do low wages encourage people to try harder and achieve more, or do they prevent people from achieving dreams because low-income families are too caught up in the struggle for survival and by the seeming hopelessness of it?  Are all these high-paid executives necessary? Maybe the cook should just cut out the middle man and set up a grill in the back yard… Oh, those pesky regulations.  Ok, so we need some executives too, in order to manage all those mountains of paperwork, and navigate all those regulations.  And, of course they deserve to be reimbursed for educational expenses, plus some extra perks, just because they’re such nice people.  But, there seems to be a significant lack of fairness in the division of profits in some companies, and not just in fast food.

Home health workers are now being encouraged to join the fast food workers’ movement, too.  I do not personally know anyone who would argue that those men and women don’t deserve a raise for all they do.  I am eternally grateful for the compassionate and competent care given to my grandfather by his home care workers when he was ill.

Some fear that increased wages will mean higher prices, higher unemployment, and maybe a move to make it the minimum wage, which some fear would kill small businesses.  Historically, yes, there are some large companies which try to use pay increases as an excuse to raise prices.  Also, more people with more money to spend means higher demand, and higher demand means higher prices for some things.  And, stockholders’ demands for more and more money might cause some large corporations to consider layoffs in order to increase profits for those already at the top.  I’ve had some (minimal) concerns about all this too, and have seen it happen with some businesses after other wage increases.  But guess what?  Some large companies will do that anyway, regardless of wage increases.   The same arguments arise every time minimum wage is increased.  And, the dire predictions prove to be mostly wrong.

But, no, wage increases alone will not fix the oversized gap between the poorest and the wealthiest.

The working class and supporters must put a collective foot down.  Refuse to support companies which underpay employees while paying top executives annual salaries that are more than most people will see in a lifetime.  When companies do mass layoffs in order to better line the pockets of the highest paid, boycott them.  Instead, support the companies which share the fruits of labor with the labor, and support small businesses, too.

And, whatever you do, don’t ask why of the 3 professions in the title, strippers earn the highest income.  But, maybe it’s time to buy a thong and consider a career change.

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