not even a Living Wage

A few years ago, Living Wage (here’s Austin’s) was all the rage; at least it was in my sociopolitical circles. I considered it worthy to hope for, but quite unlikely to ever materialize.

Today, I was smacked in the face with why it’s so damn important.

Real Life Example #1

I’ve been job hunting. Ideally, I want a part-time job in our neighborhood–or near E’s work, or easily accessible via CapMetro. Ideally, the hours would match up pretty closely to E’s. I don’t much care what I’d be doing, and I’ll work for peanuts. We live near a bunch of retail, so the schedule is the usual hitch in the giddy up.

Yesterday, I applied for a call center job–terrible, I know. Today, I tested, interviewed, and got the job. It’s a pretty crappy salary for call center work, but it’s mostly resetting users passwords. It’s $10 an hour, but I’d end up making $3.90. Yes, three dollars and ninety cents. I declined the job, eventhough I had–with hope driving me–done all the paperwork.

  • Income tax: [$2.50 per hour] right off the bat.
  • A good CapMetro pass: $96.25/mo. [$0.60/hr]
  • Spend an extra 3 hours each day getting to/from the job. [a $3 per hour hit to the salary]
    • Leave the house at 5:15am to be sitting, logged in, headphones on, and read to work by 6:45. Sit for 15 minutes unpaid until I can clock in. It seems they are sticklers for this 15 minutes they don’t pay employees for.
    • On a good day, get home at 6:45pm or get to our closest train station at 6:09 and have E pick me up.
    • Stay past 5pm anytime it gets busy because they take calls until 7pm. Miss the good bus on a regular basis and spend 1.5 hours getting home. That’s just riding time. That doesn’t count the times I’d miss the bus by 5 minutes and wait 35 for the next one.
    • It’s not even very far from E’s work, but 7am starts and open-ended evenings means we can never carpool.

So, before I even get there and do any training or work, I figure I’ll make $3.90 an hour. But wait! There’s more!

  • If you can believe what you read on the Internet, I could routinely get 3-hour blocks off during my work day. That’s just enough time to go home and back if the buses sync up perfectly. No, of course I wouldn’t be working during those 3 hours, but what am I going to do? Even if I could leave, every option costs money. So, a 9-hour workday that would normally have an hour for lunch is suddenly an 11-hour one. It’s not like I can take another job during those random mid-day breaks.
  • Also, employees pay for their headsets, their paperwork, IDs. It all comes out of the first paycheck.
  • I’d probably need some new clothes and/or a new bag or two; there are always a few little things. Also, the center reportedly has two temps: scalding and “do you want to build a snowman?”.

Before doing the math, this sounds like a pretty good job for someone in need. All that is really needed is a GED; the training is part of the gig. $10 an hour is a bit higher than minimum wage. It’s not fast food or hard labor or working in bad weather. The employees that were coming and going really did come in all shapes/sizes/colors and from all walks of life. (In fact, there might be a little too much leniency in the dress code: Hooker Barbie with her custom Meth Mouth was a bit much.)

It is imperative that companies pay enough for the employee to cover the expenses of going to the job. After all, how many bills can I pay if my net is $3.90? Granted, I don’t need to factor for 2 adults since E has a job, but shouldn’t every job be good enough to do that in case one partner gets laid off? Worse, what is a single mom supposed to do?

Real Life Example #2

Another one that gets me is the $8/hr part time gigs where you’ll be running errands, so “reliable transportation” is a requirement of the job. Let’s do that math.

  • Car – $200/mo (really cheap)
  • Insurance – $150/mo (assuming older than 25 since no one younger would have this rate)
  • Rent – $800 (Austin not-great apartment) [or, share a $1200 apartment for $600
  • Food – $300
  • Other stuff “everyone” has that isn’t even included: student loans, pets, annual fees like car registration/inspection, cable/Netflix, water/electricity.
  • Total – $1250-1450 / Gross Income – $640 (*if* you get all 20 hours every week).

Even if you have two part-time jobs at more than minimum wage, you can’t even cover the very basics.

Real Life Example #3

I see this all the time. The job description will include some/all of the following.

  • Must be available to work 7am-11pm, seven days a week.
  • You will get two days off a week, but they will never be the same two days and they will never be together. Oh, and we say you’ll get some Saturdays off, but we’re lying; you’ll work every Saturday.
  • You will get your schedule for each 1-2 week pay period a few days before that pay period begins.

(Find a pattern here: you can have NO life of any kind…because you have to be ready/able to work like a doctor who is on call to the ER.)

  • You will have 7+ bosses.
  • You must perform miracles.
  • “enthusiastic” “fast-paced environment” – those are all code for “we’re going to run you ragged, not just when things are hella busy but all the damn time”
  • “customer pleaser” “self-starter” and even “trainer/training” “admissions” – code for sales
  • “start up” “to turn full-time very soon”- you’ll make no money, the company won’t ever be able to take you full time, and then they’ll lay you off right before they go out of business

In sum, searching for a simple part-time job is a giant headache. Next time you hear someone use one of those “get a job” lines, please remember and remind them, it’s not easy. Maybe it is for them, but they are incredibly lucky and as rare as unicorn.

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