A Third Opinion

A couple of people posted a response to a 25 year old who wrote an open letter to her CEO at Yelp about her low wages and was subsequently fired. A 29 year old argues that the 25 year old should have made better choices and worked harder.

I read both and I have to say, I agree more with the 25 year old.

I’ve often wondered how anyone can live by themselves in Chicago. Every other day I’m reading  new stats about the city’s rising rent cost. One of them had a handy calculator to show I needed to make $14,000 more a year to be able to do this. But I already knew that.

I figured out that most people don’t live by themselves. If they do, they got a great deal or are living on the fringes of neighborhoods whose boundaries allow them to charge more for living in them. Or maybe they are able to afford it, but I’m fairly positive none of them have enough money saved up in the bank to get them through any sort of major incident like a medical emergency.

Because most of us are “making do”. We are all surviving on less, working just as hard and just getting by. And this is why wages are stagnant. This is why the very top keep making millions and we are getting second jobs or living at home or reading up about how to eat on $5 a day.

Someone will always have it worse. Many of them have it worse because we still live in a racist, economically unequal, corrupt and uncaring country. Some people will have to work a shit ton harder to make ends meet and it’s not fair.

But honestly, how does anything change if the cost of living keeps going up, but a cost of living salary adjustment no longer exists? How can we keep ignoring the growing expense of our day to day lives? We think because we can afford a $5 t-shirt and a “free phone” with a two year contract and an $80 a month bill and a 4 for $4 meal that we’re doing OK.

And that’s what they want us to think. We seem fine because we have material things, but can’t afford our rent, mortgages, hospital and student loan bills. As long as the facade of our everyday lives is intact, we think we’re doing fine. In fact, the only time we’ll probably see a true revolution is when gas prices are $10 a gallon and bread costs $10 a loaf.

I have material things because I don’t pay rent. I live at home with my parents. But between my car payment, insurance and monthly commute into the city to go to my job, there is not enough to live on my own. Even without my car payment, insurance and monthly commute costs, I would still not be able to afford to live in the city.

I can’t live in the city I work and that’s sort of backwards to me. If you’re a company who can afford to operate out of a major city and have employees that presumably live in it or within commuting distance, than either rent needs to be lower or wages need to be higher.

Neither of those things have anything to do with me needing to make sacrifices or work harder.

Not to mention, I’m already doing that. I’m away from home thirteen hours a day for this job. Unfortunately, I literally don’t have time for a side hustle.

And sure, maybe the answer is taking a server job. It’s not beneath me. I worked as a nanny getting paid cash, with no insurance or paid/sick time off for six years. I saw friends take home good money and have flexibility with their hours. But they definitely didn’t have health insurance.

Notice I haven’t said anything about my kid.  

I’m actually talking about how much more I’d need to make it to just live BY MYSELF.

I’d also like to mention that apartment living in the suburbs is not much cheaper than in the city. That’s because most people don’t live in apartments in the suburbs. So the shortage of available spaces allows rent to stay in the range of $1,000 for a one bedroom.

Right now, take your rent cost, which is supposed to be around 30% of your total take home pay and figure out what you’d have to make before taxes in order to live. Are you making enough or are you paying over 30% for your housing costs?

Do I think my friends who make two, three times more than me are working harder or better than me? Perhaps. Do I think their hard and better work means they should make two or three times more than me? No. Is the CEO of a company working THAT MUCH harder than their lowest paid employee that they should take home a hundred times more than them? One Hundred Times More?

How how about this: Do you believe and would you say to my face that my job doesn’t entitle me to enough money to live?

Yeah, I get it. We all make choices. Some of us make really bad ones. But I think anyone working forty hours a week should make enough to put a roof over their heads, feed and take care of themselves and live in a modest, self respecting way…no matter what they do.

The only way that can happen is if they’re paid more. I don’t expect them to have to work two jobs or take jobs without security (paid time off and health insurance).

But if we keep moving out of cities because we can’t afford them instead of questioning why it costs so much or why we’re getting paid the same amount of money we were ten or fifteen years ago while someone at the top isn’t seeing that same problem, then we’ll never get out of this situation. And that’s exactly what the 1% hopes we’ll do.

How does a manager at a fast food chain make only $10 an hour?

Why is it a luxury to live by yourself? Why is it a luxury to live in a major city? Why is it a luxury to be able to save money? When did it get like this?

We’ve been conditioned to believe that what should be affordable and accessible is somehow something that has to be earned. We’re accusing people of asking for “handouts” when all they’re asking for is a fair shake. We think people who are making a salary and have benefits should shut up and be grateful when the truth is, some of them are barely getting by.

If you are not questioning who decides what salaries should be and why, how they come to these numbers, if you are not the one deciding the value of your work and time, if you are not questioning why people have a legitimate argument for making more money, than you are part of the problem.

If you want to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and work harder than the next person, you are certainly entitled to your latest iPhone and European vacations and your expensive bourbon.

I know the difference between living within your means and simply trying to survive. We are all worth having the basic necessities after a full day’s work. Undesirable jobs shouldn’t have anything to do with how little they pay.

So while I’m glad the 29 year old never had a major medical problem that she couldn’t afford to pay for or got sick and couldn’t work for a week or two and didn’t earn money and then couldn’t pay her rent and then found herself homeless or any of the other hundred of unlucky, out of control situations that happen to everyone all of the time, I’d appreciate it if instead of telling someone else to suck it up that she might consider that really isn’t the solution.




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