By Lisa Dodson
Bea, a manager at a big-box chain store in Maine, likes to keep a professional atmosphere in the store. But with a staff struggling to get by on $6 to $8 an hour, sometimes things get messy. When one of her employees couldn’t afford to buy her daughter a prom dress, Bea couldn’t shake the feeling that she was implicated by the injustice. “Let’s just say … we made some mistakes with our prom dress orders last year,” she told me. “Too many were ordered, some went back. It got pretty confusing.” And Edy? “She knocked them dead” at the prom.
Andrew, a manager in a large food business in the Midwest, told me about the moral dilemma of employing people who can’t take care of their families even though they are working hard. This was something that he couldn’t pretend was okay. He came to the decision to “do what [he] can” even at the risk of being accused of stealing. “I pad their paychecks because you can’t live on what they make. I punch them out after they have left for a doctor’s appointment or to take care of someone … And I give them food to take home….”
Ned, who works in a chain grocery store, detours some of the “product” that doesn’t quite pass muster—dented cans, not-quite-fresh produce—to his low-wage employees. “I guess you could say I make the most of that,” he said. “I make the most of it. I don’t see it as a scam. It’s not for me, it’s for them. … At the end of the month … that’s all they have.”
Today, one in four U.S. workers earns less than $9 an hour—about $19,000 per year. Thirty-nine percent of the nation’s children live in low-income households. And African-American and Latino families are much more likely to be poor or low-income and are less likely to have assets or home equity to offset low wages.
Between 2001 and 2008, I spoke with hundreds of lower- and middle-income people about the economy, work, schools, health care, and what they saw happening around them. When this research began, I was focusing on parents in low-wage families, documenting their accounts of working, being poor, and trying to keep children safe. But that changed when I spoke with Jonathan, a middle-aged “top manager” in a chain of grocery stores in the Midwest. I was asking him about the stresses of running a business that employed lots of low-wage parents. He acknowledged there were plenty. I was getting toward the end of the interview and he seemed to sense that, so he stopped me and asked, “Don’t you want to know what this is doing to me, too?”
Read full post at Yes! Magazine