The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy

All around you are everyday heroes who refuse to be complicit in the economic mistreatment of other people.

By Lisa Dodson
Yes! Magazine

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….”

He described how it changed his job, tainted it, to be supervising people who couldn’t get by on what he paid them.

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.”

Paycheck inequalities
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

5 responses to “The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy

  1. “It is the reformer who is anxious for the reform, and not society, from which [the reformer] should expect nothing better than opposition, abhorrence, and mortal persecution” – Gandhi

    Way to go, MORAL UNDERGROUND!!!!

  2. Remove what the business has to pay to hire an employee, thanks to government, and everyone gets a higher wage. Most businesses spend between 25 and 50% over the top of the wage in order to comply with state and federal regulations and taxes on hiring employees.

    In other words, that poor $9/hour employee is costing the business $13 or more per hour. That doesn’t include the costs of complying with ADA, insurance, and other requirements also foisted on the business thanks to government.

  3. Yes Aaron and that is just the tip of the ice berg. Everyone thinks that business is the boogie man but it is really big government. My son is trying to start a business. The rules and regulations, and record keeping requirements are totally ridiculous. I must also say that minimum wage jobs were never designed to support a family. They are entry level jobs. I have held a number of them and when I got sick of trying to make it on such a limited income, I went to school and got a better job. Then, I worked hard and got an even better job, and so it went. That is what the American dream is all about. At times, I worked 80 hour weeks and raised a family too. I never took food stamps or any government aid and I never stole from my employer. My dad did the same thing. I had a good role model. Maybe that is what is lacking in today’s society. When kids see that it can be done, they grow up to have hope that they can make it, regardless of what happens. They refuse to be victims. And guess what, my son got his college degree while married and working full time at a low paying job. He was also starting a business. He was only 20. People just have to understand it is possible.

  4. Pingback: Subvirtiendo una economía injusta « noticiasdeabajo

  5. The answer is a resource based economy not one based on money.

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