How Many Jobs Equal a Living Wage?

In recent surveys the number of Americans living paycheck to paycheck has increased to 61% from 43% just last year. Of course, seeing as this is an economic recession small depression that comes as no surprise to many. However, it wasn't the numbers that shocked me. It was some of the more callous and otherwise ill informed opinions on one website that caught my attention, and is worthy of my ire tonight.

According to some popular and over simplified opinions as of late, if you can't make ends meet you are either living above your means, or simply not working enough jobs.

How many jobs are enough to make ends meet?

Now, don't misunderstand me, there are people who live above their means. Many American families do. In fact there are two types of people who live above their means. Those who do so buy making wildly expensive purchases and pursue non functional items on credit just so they can have them, and those whose "means" can barely afford basic living expenses such as housing, food, clothing, and medical care.

In a former post I quoted that 91.5 million Americans are living at, below or just above the national poverty threshold. That would be approximately 1/3 of our population, or just over 30%. So of that 61% nearly half of the people are "living above their means" because their "means" do not comprise of living wages.

The other half were living within their means, but have suffered job loses or pay-cuts, meaning that they are no longer living within their means. Of course of that 61% I'm sure that some have hit hard times for other reasons such as identity theft and medical catastrophes.

But first, let's talk about employment. Underemployment, over employment, or no employment. The idea that if one who cannot afford to live should just "pick up another job" sounds logical, but generally isn't. Particularly not for those who are already employed full time. Let's look at some hard numbers:

There are 168 hours in the week. Of that, one needs 56 hours per week to sleep (8 hours a day, 7 days a week). A "full time" job is usually between 40-60 hours per week. Typically 40 for hourly wage workers unless they are allowed overtime, and 60 for salaried workers. Let's look at the average salaried worker - 60 hours per week (or 8.5 hours per day 7 days per week), plus 56 hours a week to sleep is 116 hours of 168 already consumed. That leaves 7.5 hours in a day to do something other than work or sleep.

Now, if you figure 2 hours in the AM to groom yourself, eat breakfast and wake up for work, and an hour at night to eat dinner you have 4.5 hours left in the day to work your second job. Any job, part time or otherwise has an average shift of 4 hours minimum. So if you work a part time second job at 4 hours per day (28 hours per week 7 days a week) you have exactly one half hour to commute each day from your home, to you first job, from your first job to your second job, and then home again at night. If you only work 50 hours per week you would have a commute time of 1.8 hours, and at only 40 hours per week, you'd get about 3 hours of commute time.

Let's recap: for the average American working 60 hours per week you would have to wake up at 6AM, work and commute until 9PM, then have dinner, and pass out at 10PM in order to work 1 full time job, and one part time job.

And those numbers are spread out over a full 7 days.

Assuming that anyone thinks that's reasonable, you have to ask, is it even possible? If you are childless, and happen to live within minutes of both of your employers, and never have a need to go grocery shopping, to the bank or do your laundry, sure.

Then again, many people do work 2 jobs. How do they do it? Well, those who do are usually hourly wage employees who are not allowed overtime pay (more than 40 hours per week) and often work one or two part time jobs that are less than 20 hours per week in order to make up the difference. For all of their work, however, they are often paid very little and wind up working an 80 hour work week and still can't make ends meet.

Which brings up another point about "just get another job". Not only are humans not machines with finite amounts of energy and time - jobs are also finite, as are the funds paying for said jobs. There aren't enough jobs for everyone to have one job, how does anyone expect people to have more than one and not cause a shortage elsewhere?

Something, at some point, will have to be cut. Be it jobs or salaries - if everyone tries to work multiple jobs we will perpetuate the already defunct employment system even further. For example:

If a company has $100 per hour allotted for employee pay it can hire two people at $50 per hour, four people at $25 per hour, eight people at $12.50 per hour, 16 people at $6.25 per hour, 32 people at $3.12 per hour, and now we're into serious poverty wages. So let's say there are two companies with 10 job openings each, (20 jobs) and 25 people who need employment. Based on the $100 per hour allotment, the company's initial offer is $10 per hour.

Already we see five people who will be unemployed, unless they up their job openings by five. By doing so, they will have to cut salaries accordingly, to $8 per hour. Now five people state that they can't live on $8 per hour, and ask for additional employment from the other company. In order to accommodate the additional five jobs, the company has had to cut everyone's salary to $6.67 per hour. Which means that more employees will have to get more jobs, at even lesser payrates. You see what I mean? It's a self perpetuating cycle.

Of course the alternative is to keep the wages at $10 per hour, and simply give the jobs to those who qualify regardless if they already hold one or more jobs. By doing that you've upped the unemployment rate substantially.

In other words, for every second and third job a person takes, someone, somewhere loses the opportunity to work or gets a pay cut.

And furthermore, who thinks working 16 hour days just to make ends meet is even reasonable, anyway?

How about this: How about we re-engineer the system so that one job pays each employee enough to live reasonably, all while cutting the average cost of living instead of treating hard working individuals like wage-slaves with boundless energy and unlimited time to do a company's bidding for pitiful pay?

How can we do this? Well for one, we need to stop being greedy. Companies do not need to make or retain a profit. A company is not a person. It is an inanimate object, an idea, a building. Any profit above and beyond the cost of operation (including a specific amount of "cushion" money) should go directly back to the people who actually make a company a company - the employees. That also means that the big boys at the top will have to take a pay cut. While they make their $40 mill a year, their employees are living hand to mouth, working just as many hours if not more, and are working harder for less. Not to mention that a company can run perfectly fine without an overpaid CEO. It cannot function without all of the "underlings" that actually do the work.

And I challenge any CEO, and their cronies to fire all of their employees on a Friday and still have a company on the following Monday.

Not gonna happen.

But back to my original point - which is the ideology that if you can't live comfortably on the paycheck from one job, you should just get another one and keep working until all you do is work is unreasonable, unrealistic, and illogical.

Furthermore, yes we can cut back. We can all cut back. But you can only cut back so much before you start cutting necessities, and start negatively affecting the economy as a whole.

Now I'm stating this as an Anarchist looking at people who wish to live in a capitalist economy. But if everyone simply stopped buying all of the "extras", then millions more people would lose their jobs, because those "extras" create funds that create jobs that people need to buy food, shelter, and clothing.

So while I would love to see the demise of many a corporation due to the outright boycott of their products and services, I dread to see the actual financial repercussions of such an act. Regardless of how I personally feel about our economic system it is the reality I live in. And it relies, entirely, on the purchasing of all of those little unnecessary items that everyone proposes we cut out to better "live within our means".

For example, cable TV was brought up. It's not necessary, that's true. It's a frivolous cost that millions of Americans pay every month. If the 61% of the citizens living paycheck to paycheck suddenly canceled their cable, that would mean that the cable companies would lose 183 million customers, all at once. They would then go out of business. If the cable companies go out of business, who will TV stars work for? Actresses, actors, producers, writers? The millions of people who work as crew members for each TV show and commercial? They will be out of work, entirely.

And that's just one industry. Imagine if it were cable companies, gyms, cell phone providers, dealerships, gas stations, toy stores, clothing stores, malls!

It's an unfeasible idea bantered by unrealistic capitalists who have been spoon fed the ideology that humans are bred to work for companies, and should do nothing else but work. And anyone who doesn't subscribe to that, or anyone who can't do that are somehow "less than" those who enjoy being wage slaves.

I see it the other way around. I see that people who feel that their only worth is wrapped entirely around their work or bank accounts actually have very little to offer besides their bodies for the purpose of rendering a service for a fee.

Otherwise known as prostitutes.

And how pimps corporations love a brothel full of low wage prostitutes at their disposal.


Renegade Eye said...

You don't have to be Einstein, to know the living standards, of average people, have been in steady decline.

Most wealth is owned by 0.1% of the population.

Anok said...

Einstein, no. Awake and aware? Yes. I have been shocked time and time again to meet people who truly do not know or understand how things really work. They figure that if they make X amount of money every year, than everyone else does, too. And honestly can't wrap their heads around the fact that not everyone can make what they make in the system we have.

Even people who know that their coworkers make substantially less than they do, and are facing even more pay cuts and layoffs while they talk about how they work their "out of boredom" and sit by and watch their fellow employees struggle every single day.

They are just shocked to find out that maybe the person standing next them is working there because they need to, rather than want to, and is surviving only on that income. They are shocked when they find out how little their coworker makes.

They say things like 'Well, why can't you afford X, Y, or Z?"

And are surprised to hear that they can't afford it because they are being paid minimum wage to work in the same exact industry, the same company, the same building and job as they are!

And even still, they don't get it. They say, why not get another job? Well, we would but you've taken them all and continue to take up valuable employment opportunities out of sheer boredom.

I am ranting now, but i can think of 4 employees where my husband works that have absolutely no need to work there at all. One of them has three jobs (chronic insomniac and workaholic), the other three have substantial cash flow from other sources/retirement and simply work there "just because". All four of them are sitting around watching their coworkers getting pink slips and paycuts to make ends meet - without so much as considering the notion that "Hey, I don't actually need this job. This guy/gal needs this job, it's their only income - I'll volunteer for a lay off so they can pay the rent and buy groceries."


Slashingtongue(dot)com said...

The reason why many people are living paycheck to pay check even before the election is due to 3 main factors.

1) You me and the entire country. When my grandparents came to America, they had nothing and made something. Because they had the logic of what you cannot afford, do not purchase. We on the other hand have come accustomed to the credit card culture. Instead of coming after people that owe them money, debtors instead raise our interest rates, driving the bus further down the ditch till it nearly became the point of no return. We need to change from credit card culture to debit card culture.

2) Unbelievably stupid practices. In the last 9 years or so, there are unbelievably stupid practices that have come up all around the world. E.g. "Short-sell"; where someones borrows a stock that they do not own, sells it cheap and buys it back at a profit. "Casino banking" where banks literally bet on one another to fail.

3) Lack of manufacturing in America. E.g. 1/6 of the economy is health-care. WTF? What does it make? What does it export? Nothing. As long as we do not make anything, we can forget about being the best...

Btw, I love your design Anok.

Anok said...

Thanks for stopping by Slash! You bring up a good point - point number three. And in fact that idea that we produce nothing but the imaginary money source (of course banking, stocks, etc are also a huge part of our economy) goes even further in that we can't even produce things for ourselves anymore, let alone anything that will bolster the economy. When you do live in a world that revolves on credit, plastic money, computerized debt/charge systems and are encouraged, non stop to buy rather than make you are in for a disaster!

What will happen years down the road when our money is no goo din other countries, or almost worthless, and we no longer produce our own goods so that we couldn't even barter if we wanted to? Yikes!

Although I do agree with you about your other points, I think point number three is most important.

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