I’ve got several long thoughtful posts that I’d like to write, but I’ve just been crashing before I get to my blogging time. So go read the first article in the Washington Post’s series on low-wage workers, and then we can discuss.
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Thanks for the link. I’ll be interested to read the rest of the series. I’m not sure that the link between globalization and depressed wages in the service industry is valid, but the rest certainly rang true to me. My “little sister’s” mother works as a retirement center aide and I’ve never met anyone who works harder for so little monetary compensation. (And then she comes home to take care of her own 5 kids.) Politically, she supported Hillary – because she felt Hillary was the only candidate who understood her day-to-day challenges.
It always surprises me that people don’t blame their employers for their situation. I guess people are so worried about losing their jobs that they don’t want to rock the boat. It’s a little bit like the Stockholm syndrome. Of course, if they organized, they might be less likely to face personal retribution. It’s also interesting that people blame immigrants, but have not experienced any direct effects of immigration themselves.
It does seem that the government–including the candidates–ignore these people. And for the most part, they don’t have time or energy to make themselves heard. Kind of a vicious cycle.
One thing I think interesting in the article is “Nearly half of low-wage workers said illegal immigrants take jobs from legal residents, and half of those believe that they are jobs that residents would want. Still, only 1 in 5 said that they or their family have been hurt by illegal immigration. ” – this has seemed to me to be a major factor. I have seen the displacement of native born from the casual labor market here in DC area over the last fifteen years, and from the gardening services, sheetrock hanging firms, etc.
And, when you think about it – if you are an employer and you have a choice of hiring a citizen who did indifferently at a second-rate US high school and maybe has attitude or a conviction, and an illegal who had the spunk to walk across 60 miles of Arizona desert and is eager for work, your easy choice is likely the illegal. Multiply that choice by many thousands, and you have citizens who have no easy path to employment nor much bargaining power when they get it, and particularly men.
This seems to me to loom a lot larger in real life than it does in the article. And it’s ignored a lot by the millionaires who govern us – Pelosi, Lott, Obama, Bush, McCain – none of them have to try to get hired out of the crowd at a day labor pick up point.
I remember a few years ago I read “Kitchen Confidential”, the Anthony Bourdain book about running restaurants. He unabashedly spoke of how he refused to hire native-born staff because he felt their work ethic was poor. (I think he preferred Guatemalans?) I couldn’t help but think, maybe they just didn’t want to work for a complete *ss? But your opinion of Bourdain may be different.
On the flip side I also seem to remember some research showing that, because of protections from competition from the undocumented in the New York City markets, housekeeping staff in NY have kept their wages livable. In strict contrast to the condition Houston workers were in, for example, with their fairly famous housekeeping strike in 2006.
I don’t know that it’s typically realistic to blame the employer. Often with these globalization pressures the employer is getting screwed just as much as the employee, especially if the business is small.
IMHO higher domestic employment could be one of the upsides of higher energy costs. If transport cost goes up, many of the jobs that went overseas will come back home. I believe this has already begun in some industries.
The restaurant business is extremely competitive. I heard a call on a personal finance radio show recently where a woman was grossing something like $18K a month at her restaurant, but was still losing money to cover payroll, food, rent, payments to franchisor, etc. Under the circumstances, there would be enormous temptation to cut corners on payroll.