The title is the answer to the question, “what did the English major say to the business major.”  And that’s my segue into last week’s protest by McDonald’s workers and others last week protesting for higher wages.  To say that this is laughable is an understatement.  For some reason there are those who believe that a company should be obligated to pay a person, not based upon their contribution to the overall operations of their employer, but rather on a their idea of a “living wage.”  That rather vague term suggests that compensation should be sufficient to pay all expenses for a family of four, again regardless of the employees skill level.

I’ve written on the minimum wage argument before so I won’t elaborate on the fallacies of their arguments.  Rather, I’ll present to you two scenarios and you be the judge as to whether a McDonald’s employee working 29 hours a week should be earning $24,000 or more a year.

Argument #1

Me:  “I’d like a large iced coffee, no liquid sugar and whole milk.”

McD:  “OK.  Hold on a second.  You want an iced coffee?”

Me:  “Yes.  Large.  No flavor.  Whole milk.”

McD:  “What size?”

Me:  “Large. No liquid sugar.  Whole milk?”

McD:  “Ok.  What flavor?”

Me:  “No liquid sugar.”

McD: “So you want plain?”

Me:  “No.  I don’t want any sugar.  Plain has sugar.

McD:  “OK.”  Screen then displays “extra sugar.”

Me:  “I don’t want extra sugar.  I want no sugar.”

McD “So do you still want the cream?”

Me:  “Yes!”

McD:  “2% or whole milk?”


McD:  “OK.  That’ll be $2.79.”

At the window I pay for my iced coffee and pick it up at the next window.  As I’m driving away I put my straw in.  As I’m on the ramp onto the interstate I taste my iced coffee which has sugar in it.

Now you may find this humorous but I’d would bet money that each of you reading this has had a similar experience at McDonald’s or another fast food place and found it equally exasperating.  I now find it humorous because I can look over at my wife sitting next to me in the car and smile.  We can smile because we know it’s coming.  You see, I’ve had this conversation multiple times at multiple McDonald’s.  It’s happened so often that I can explain to the worker what buttons to look for to complete my order because I’ve witnessed a manager explaining it to an employee so many times.  This, in spite of the fact that I’ve never even seen the employee side of a McDonald’s register.

These are those highly skilled employees who have had about two hours of training on how to operate the cash register that has every product McDonald’s offers at the push of a button.  This isn’t brain surgery.  Heck, it’s not even bunion surgery.   Yet few McDonald’s employees ever seem to master this rather basic tool of fast food restaurants.  And how hard can it be to make french fries or assemble a burger?  Does such a position really justify any increase in wages, let alone a doubling of pay as some have suggested?  And should pay for any employee be based upon the number of dependents they support rather than the quantity and quality of work provided?

Argument #2

My son is in the Army and I’m very proud of him.  He’s a Private First Class and has been in the Army almost 18 months.  He’s trained as a track vehicle repairer, MOS (Military Occupational Skill) 91H.  In other words, he’s a mechanic that works on heavy equipment.  In his first year as a mechanic he’s worked multiple 18 hour days.  He’s worked 24 hour shifts.  He has been on training missions where, during the one month training mission, he slept in a vehicle rather than a bunk. He has to ask permission to leave base or to go home to visit his family.  He’s subject to being told he is going overseas, potentially in harm’s way where his life may be at risk.  If he gets married and has children, because of his nominal pay he’ll probably need to take advantage of government assistance such as food stamps, WIC, etc, in order to make ends meet.   Contrary to public perception, he has to buy his own food and his own uniforms.  He is provided housing.  And he gets to do all of this for about $11,000/year. Do the math.  His pay is well below minimum wage.

So, when an unskilled burger flipper whines about not being able to feed his family on 29 hours a week of wages, it’s hard for me to muster much sympathy.  Rather than demanding to be paid more than the whiner is really entitled to, the whiner should do something to improve their situation like improving their skill set.  The reality is that a lot of people really don’t have the ability to improve their skill set.  Unfortunately those folks will probably be relegated to unskilled work at nominal pay.  Others will be relegated to that work because they lack the self motivation to doing anything about their situation.  In neither case should you and I pay a lot more for a burger to pay for their higher wages.

What I will offer is a compromise.  Let’s pay those who defend our country a “living wage.”  Let’s make sure that those young men and women who risk their lives protecting our don’t have to depend upon welfare to survive.  And then we can have a further discussion on the merits of burger flippers who have no skills earning more than our troops.

Photo credit: Steve Rhodes via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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  1. Unfortunately, our society does not understand how to live within their means. This fact only fuels the “living wage” myth. As a college instructor, I work with students who can’t seem to find money for gas to get to school, but they can find the money for $200+ headphones, an iPhone and phone plan, Wendy’s for dinner coming to my weekly class, etc. My sympathy towards their “plight” decreases as they prove their misinformation of economics.

    1. I agree, during a time in my life when I was struggling financially. Not only did I not have cable, a computer or internet, or a gaming system for my boys, I didn’t even have a cell phone. My TV’s were 17 years old, with bunny ears. I had to hold onto the northernmost antenna for an hour just so I could watch “LOST”. lol. Yet kids these days do not understand the difference between ‘need’ and ‘necessity’.

  2. I’m all for paying our armed services a living wage, and although I understand your exasperation with McD’s and all fast food workers, I have to say this… I’ve worked in fast food (while I was improving my skill set), Since then I’ve worked in factories, offices, bakeries, hospitals and nursing homes. The hardest work I have ever done was in fast food. It may not be bunion surgery, but it is hard work. A lot of it is because you have to work side by side with the above example and pick up their slack. Rude customers, malfunctioning headsets and the speed with which is expected of you is also a factor.
    Is it hard to assemble a sandwich? No. Is all the prep involved to ensure quick service hard? Yes. Is it hard to have the customers roll their eyes as they look down on you because they have to wait an extra 37 seconds for their sandwich? Yes. Is it hard to be a single mother struggling to make ends meet at minimum wage with very little opportunity or time to better themselves? Yes.
    Does this job even begin to compare with those who risk their lives to defend our country? Although I’ve never been in the armed services, I can safely assume the answer is no. I am also assuming that you have never worked in a fast food restaurant. I would love for your next article to be about the fast food industry AFTER you have worked a week or two in one of them.

    1. I have worked in the fast food industry and yet I still agree with the article’s author. Any time we knock the first few rungs off the ladder of economic success and pay burger flippers $15/hour, what do we do with those who had to go to school or obtain some technical training in order to get paid twice the current minimum wage? We either pay them more to separate them from the low skilled wage or we lose them to easier occupations that pay the same money. Neither response pays off for society.

      Where I do part company is comparing private sector and military pay scales. Two different animals.

      1. $15/hour is absolutely ridiculous. I agree and understand with the economics part of the article. But I was put off by the condescending tone towards those who work in fast food.

  3. Dude, what is wrong with you? You’re so oblivious. You say you’ve never worked at a McD’s, yet somehow you know the reasoning for someone who does as to why he/she deserves a raise? In fact, I’d say you’re flat wrong on that point anyway. They deserve a raise exactly because they contribute more than anyone to the operations of the business. i haven’t read your arguments on the miniumum wage, but if this article is any indication, it wouldn’t be worth the time. This article is nothing more than judgmental smarmy whining from the ivory tower.
    And btw, employees striking for higher wages is as Free Market Capitalist as you can get! Since when do Conservatives oppose that?! … Yes, your true colors are showing. Ten bucks says you don’t even know what that is. Oblivious indeed.

Comments are closed.

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