The recent marching and walkouts in protest of the minimum wage rate at fast-food restaurants – and demands for a higher one – are a bit misplaced. At $7.40 an hour, it is far from being generous or enough for a family to sustain themselves. Understood. However, the outrage and energy could be better aimed at addressing the problem of low-wage employment.
Fast-food restaurants have long been a place for teens to find their first jobs, or for seniors looking to remain active after retirement. They offer low-skilled positions with a wage commensurate with the requirements, or lack thereof.
Entry-level fast-food jobs were never intended to be permanent employment, nor should they be seen as such; instead, they are starter or transitional employment with the opportunity and intent of providing a skill set and incentive for higher-level work, even if in the same industry.
The graduation and illiteracy rates in Michigan are abysmal, at best. As a result, we have too many residents who are undereducated and under- or all-out unemployable. This problem does not justify raising the wage to meet these compromised qualifications. To do so would be a false seal of approval for failure and lack of training both by the person and a system that should help prepare them.
To raise the minimum wage to a level comparable to those who are better-educated and with a higher skill set would send the wrong signal. It says education isn’t necessary and job readiness isn’t needed. It invalidates the connection between preparation and quality of life.
While the energy and efforts invested in increasing the wage to $15 are admirable, I believe those same efforts would be better-served by working to address the factors that help place many workers into positions with few options and no growth potential. It starts by having a candid discussion and very loud call to action.
That discussion needs to be about the reality of education, preparation and options. Either you prepare to succeed, or you don’t prepare and fail. Period. Certainly there are variables that impact lives and the potential for livelihood, and those issues should be considered and an appropriate means of support implemented. The bootstrap theory won’t work who don’t have boots. Yet, a myopic approach to solving the outcomes of otherwise complicated and overlooked contributing factors are not a real solution.
We need to look at a transitional solution for those who may have fallen through the cracks, thus allowing them to move up and out of an unproductive economic circumstance rather than compensate them for being there as well as the myriad issues contributing to their plight. Many who show up for retraining do so with a third- or found-grade reading level. That must be addressed long before adulthood. Let’s not forget that pictures were added to cash registers in fast food restaurants to compensate for the workers who were unable to read. That is not helping the problem.
Rather than walk-outs, how about a rally for increased graduation rates, parent-teacher conference attendance, and higher, not skewed, performance scores for math, reading and science; let’s see higher interest and participation in the paid apprenticeships offered by local unions; and let’s have the discussion about vocational training for those for whom college isn’t a fit. Let’s take a look at even the government cracks that seem to widen, thus enveloping too many.
We must not be comfortable with, comforting to or compensate the status quo or underperformance. And, we must all understand that a one-solution approach to a problem with myriad factors in the end solves nothing. More importantly, we must address the contributing factors, not validate the problem.