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Minimum Wage Workers Always Get The Shaft

low wage workers get the shaftWorking for minimum wage is something many Americans have to do to make a living. I don’t think any person over the age of 18 would say that working for peanuts is all they ever hoped and dreamed of, but it’s a reality. Whether a person is stuck in a low wage job because of bad choices or situations beyond their control, I think we can all agree that people who don’t make much money are far more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck without much savings to back them up if things go wrong. Sadly, when things do go wrong, it’s the low wage workers that always seem to get the shaft.

A New McDonalds?

We have one McDonald’s in our small town. Whether you view McDonald’s as good or bad, it’s always busy. I can honestly say there is not one thing on the McDonald’s menu that I enjoy. I’m odd because I didn’t even like McDonald’s as a kid, but our daughter loves chicken nuggets, and we indulge her 3-4 times a year, always having to wait forever at the drive- thru, regardless of what time of day it is.

The  owner of our McDonald’s owns two other franchises in neighboring towns, the closest being about 50 miles away. He recently announced that he was building an entirely new restaurant and razing the old one. Apparently McDonald’s corp requires this every thirty years, but he was bragging about doing it a decade early so that he could have the latest design.

The crappy thing about this, not necessarily for the Big Mac lovers, but for the employees is that the restaurant will close down later this month for approximately 120 days while the new one is being built. The owner said he will reimburse gas for employees to carpool to one of his other McDonald’s to pick up shifts. He also said that everyone’s shifts, including the other two franchises’, will be cut during construction so that everyone could work some hours.

Minimum wage in Colorado is $8 per hour. I imagine most McDonald’s employees don’t make much over that. A recent post at Debt and the Girl even talks about lowering the minimum wage!  Cut their hours and make them drive an hour each way, possibly over snow,  and you can see how that might well affect their bottom lines. I wonder how many minimum wage workers even have a reliable car that is capable of a 100 mile round trip winter commute every day?

Even if you aren’t working at the downed Mickey D’s,  your hours are getting cut to accommodate all the misplaced employees. Workers wouldn’t even be eligible for unemployment because the owner is still essentially providing a job. The only winner I see in this scenario is the owner, who probably gets some sort of bonus for building a new modern place, and the Whopper that will surely see an increase in customers due to the loss of Big Mac for 4 months.

Arsonists: Minimum Wage Earners Worst Enemies

It seem our town has gone crazy. No McDonald’s for 4 months, and one of the managers at the Family Dollar burned it to the ground. Yes, that’s correct, although I guess I should say allegedly burned it to the ground as he is currently awaiting trial at the Montezuma County Correctional Center. All the employees are out of a job because the manager is a pyromaniac.

I guess you could garner unemployment if arson destroys your place of work, but unemployment is only about 50% of your wages, and at minimum wage, that pretty meek. Family Dollar has shown no indication of rebuilding, and it’s been a few months. Maybe they have to wait for the trial, but regardless, the employees certainly got the shaft.

How Do Low Wage Earners Stop Getting the Shaft?

The answer is simple, but complex to achieve. People need to make better choices so they don’t have to take jobs for minimum wage. I do understand that there might be some appeal, like benefits or free day care, that might make a minimum wage job appealing in some situations. If you have a spouse who is the main wage earner of if you need a second job to earn more income, minimum wage might be OK. However, if being a fry cook at McDonald’s is your only gig, how did you end up there?

This might fly in the face of our personal freedoms, but we need to make sure kids are graduating from high school. Although recent high school graduation rates are the highest in three decades, according to the US Department of Education, at around 78%, that is still 2 out of every 10 kids who will likely go on to earn minimum wage at best. Here are some more troubling statistics from Brian at Luke 1428. This is just unacceptable.

We also need to do more to make sure people aren’t having children they can’t support. You don’t need to be rich to have a child, but if your sole means of income is from government assistance programs because your minimum wage job does not pay your expenses, you really need to consider this before you get pregnant.

The old system of education does not work for so many kids. We need to start from elementary school teaching kids ways to avoid poverty. Maybe if they had some idea how much it costs to raise a child or come up with enough money to live on, they  just might think twice before making choices that set them up for failure. It should be a parent’s job to teach this, but that isn’t happening, so someone has to pick up the slack. At least, I think they system should require attendance. Parents should be fined if their kids are not in school without a valid reason. If they don’t have money to pay, then cut their benefits. For some, the threat of losing money or subsidies might the the only thing that works, sad but true.

I don’t blame the McDonald’s franchise owners or Family Dollar corporate. They obviously want to earn money like everyone else, but you can bet they are not suffering from either of the recent events in our town. I do feel sorry for the employees who are getting the shaft. I can only hope misfortune might change someone’s mind and inspire them to find ways to get out of the minimum wage grind.

I’d love to hear an opinion from someone making minimum wage. Have you ever lost a job for a crazy reason like arson? Why do so many people continue to apply for minimum wage jobs, know they are first in line to get the shaft? 

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/stock images

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I imagine that’s because even getting an education isn’t a guarantee of a good job nowadays. And while anyone in NZ can get a govt. student loan to go to university, it’s quite different over there in the US.

    • A college education is certainly not a guarantee of a job. That’s why planning and finding education and training in something that will actually pay the bills is so important.

  2. I guess I’d rather work for minimum wage than for nothing. Not sure I’d travel 50 miles one way for one though. This is a great example for young people out there…aspire to greatness or this could be the result.

  3. Hmm this is a very complicated topic. First of all, I agree that workers do need to start demanding more than the minimum wage. At the same time, it would be interesting to sit down and work with some people who would typically apply to minimum wage jobs and see if you can find them a higher-paying job. I think kids can be a drag on finances so I definitely agree that having ‘unplanned’ kids can hurt your chances of moving up to a higher paying job, for various reasons.

    • The only way companies will ever pay more than minimum wage for certain jobs is if there is no one willing to work them, and I don’t see that happening. I do wish high school did more for life training, meaning let the kid study what they are good at and might make a living from. When Jim taught 7th grade, he had this one kid who could almost not read, but he was a genius, almost a savant, in math. One of his high school teachers realized that he was amazing with mechanical type stuff and would bribe him by bringing torn up engines and gadgets he could work on if he could pass his reading classes. As a result, this teacher turned him onto an airline mechanic program, and he trained and got certified to do that as a career. I’m afraid that without this one teacher, he might have dropped out because of bad grades. Why can’t the whole school be more like that and how many kids don’t ever get encouragement in what they are good at because their standardized test results are poor? Wow, I need to shut up now!

  4. I think people having children they can’t support is a MAJOR issue in this country. I can’t imagine how much entitlement programs would shrink on their own if we focused more on funding sex education rather than cutting benefits.

    • What I see a lot personally is that these young girls see others have kids and how you can sign up for all kinds of assistance programs for single moms. It probably seems like good money for someone who is young and has never lived in the real world. I wish there was a better way to educate young people about how truly hard it is to raise a child, especially on very limited income.

  5. I suppose the hope would be that a new, more modern McDonalds would be a more sustainable business for the future giving better security that the jobs will be there. But, it is a complete pain in the arse for everyone involved. The McDonalds closest to me (just 6 blocks away) went through this process a year ago, but they didn’t demo the whole building. They did completely remodel it, and did it in such a way that the business was open through the process. For a very short period only the drive through was open. I think they pulled some of that “Extreme makeover edition” magic where they lined up contractors and did the dining room remodel by working crazy nonstop hours. I wish I had taken a picture of it…but they actually reopened the dining room with card tables and plastic lawn furniture for a few days before they installed the new booths!

    • I have no idea why they need to close the whole thing down. From my understanding, they are building the new on next to the old one and then tearing it down. At least keep it open until demolition. I bet the owner is not losing out, or he would surely not close completely.

  6. We had the exact same thing happen at the McD’s up the street from us about 2-3 years ago and the owner did the same basic thing. They didn’t have to go 50 miles for the other one, but their hours were still cut. I don’t know what the solution is, and I know some don’t want much more than a job at a fast food place – at least that’s what I saw when I worked in fast food for about 3 months. That said, I would like to think politicians could come up with a solution, but I’m also realistic. 😉

    • I wouldn’t count on politicians to come up with much. I think states or even individual school districts should have more authority about consequences of truancy.

  7. I have worked minimum wage at McDonald’s for a year and loved the fact that there was zero responsability, one minute of overtime would get paid and you got free meals and a decent set of other perks like cheap holiday vouchers. However, I took the job because it was a 2 minute walk from my home. I have a reader who makes $2,000 to spend $800 on gas and car loans. I’d never take a minimum wage job if half my salary was to be spent in work related expenses.
    Those workers are crazy if they accept just gas money to depreciate their car and lose two hours a day in commute. I am sure on the way there are several businesses who would hire them since they are ready to work for minimum wage. One thing I didn’t have as a minimum wage worker was loyalty, if the wage is the same, better work close to home.

  8. I would stay home if half of my minimum wage job was taken by work expenses. Single parenthood is the easiest way to stay trapped in poverty. I don’t know how people on minimum wage with kids survive.

    • I think the only way is to exist on public assistance. There is no other way to afford food and a place to live. I would certainly quit McDonald’s if I had to drive 50 miles to get there. I’m sure you could get another mw job somewhere else.

  9. Education is certainly a huge factor here and I agree HS degrees need to really be a mandate. I feel so sorry for those displaced McD’s workers. I put in my time at Starbucks when I first moved to NYC and as minimum wage jobs go, Starbucks is a pretty decent one. They’ve got a lot of great programs in place for their employees, including insurance for PT workers, and they always pay a little above minimum wage with lots of room for raises and promotions.

    • There are some minimum wage jobs that do offer benefits and wouldn’t be too bad as far as crazy hours, but it would still be hard to make a living.

  10. I worked at Wendy’s in high school so minimum wage is fine for that age, but it would damn near be impossible if that was the main source of income. I do think minimum wage should be raised some, but obviously early education and getting families better job skills would be more idea. As far as people not having children who aren’t ready? Well that is I’m sure a hot button item I’ll just go ahead and stay away from. 🙂

    • Yeah, I feel bad bringing it up, but I see it all the time, and it just really ends a kid’s chance to make it out of poverty, unless the kid comes from a well off family who can help with child care while the kid finishes school.

  11. Minimum wage is definitely a hot button issue. While I do think it would be beneficial to raise it, I don’t think it should be raised to $15 like many fast food workers want it to be. Minimum wage jobs are jobs that require very little skills and should be a stepping stone. It is not a job someone should make a career out of. I absolutely agree that people need to make better choices so they don’t have to take these jobs. And if they are forced to take these jobs, they need to make decision to get out of that predicament.

  12. Kim, I agree with you that all starts at home. Children learn from their parents. I remember my little daughter telling people that she want to be an insurance broker, just like me. In order for minimum wage to go up there has to be shortage of people wanting these jobs. Then, you would see businesses offering higher hourly rates to attract workers.

    There is a way out for many people if they are willing to get trained. There are shortages in many areas like nurses, plumbers and electricians. These are essential works and they will always be in demand. If you don’t have a great background and education you can still pick up a line of work and get trained. For example, you can get training to be a chef if you don’t want to earn minimum wage flipping burgers.

  13. It’s definitely a hot issue. I think education is key. While it’s not guaranteed to get you a great, high paying job, the reality is that it is often what will get your foot in the door. I think a lot of companies have a ceiling for employees without a college degree, let alone a high school diploma.

  14. I work at a ski resort for slightly more than minimum wage. My own business is seasonal from May – October. I make enough money in the summer to be able to take winters off but I don’t want to drain my savings. Some people work there for the free lift tickets, some are retired but don’t want to stay home all day and some are so desperate they need whatever job they can get.

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