Stop Calling The Working Poor Lazy!

Some of the hardest work you'll ever do is deal with drive-thru customers.

Some of the hardest work you'll ever do is deal with drive-thru customers.

Incompetence isn't specific to low-wage workers or poor people. It's found in every walk of life.

Maybe I just have the most conservative Facebook feed on the planet, but there's a common refrain going around that makes me want to scream. Anytime raising the minimum wage to $10 or $15 an hour is mentioned, someone gets on a soapbox about how anyone making only minimum wage must be lazy, uneducated, or unwilling to look for better work. That maybe if they just tried harder, they'd make more money or get a real job.

God forbid a single group, like fast-food workers, attempt to unite and fight for a better living wage. The moment they do, stories about more deserving groups who don't complain about their income are thrown about.

First of all, the minimum wage isn't a sustainable wage for anyone, so can we cut the "more deserving" crap? Second, people making minimum wage aren't inherently lazy. They're doing tough jobs, working long hours, and, even worse, they're making sacrifices that many of us can't comprehend.

Those lazy poor people do much more than you realize:

  • Work on their feet with few breaks for eight or more hours
  • Work in stifling hot or freezing cold conditions
  • Ride their bike to work — in good and bad weather — and not for their health or the environment
  • Walk to work because they can't afford a bike
  • Work multiple jobs — all at minimum wage — to make ends meet

I've worked those minimum wage jobs and jobs just above minimum wage. I was exhausted after each and every shift. I worked every extra hour I could just to bring home a little more. The soles of my feet burned, my joints ached, and my muscles twitched after long shifts.

If the working poor were all so lazy, you wouldn't have anyone to serve your food or clean your office buildings after their first day on the job. Long hours on your feet, while constantly moving and lifting, are brutal. If poor people were all so damn lazy, they'd tell you they weren't paid enough money to get burned by hot grease or clean a toilet.

Before you point out all the incompetent people you've dealt with when you ordered a burger, bought a new shirt, or stood in line for several minutes for a gourmet coffee, let me tell you I know. There are plenty of people who aren't doing their job well. When I made $20 an hour in a more corporate environment, I met those same people — and they were often making double my wage.

Incompetence isn't specific to low-wage workers or poor people. It's found in every walk of life.

When a group like fast-food workers unites for a living wage, they're an easy target because people already have an idea in their mind of what a burger-flipper must be: uneducated, lazy, and unwilling to find real work. But until you've spent even a four-hour shift standing over a hot griddle, working with hot grease, or dealing with a rude population, don't talk to me about the work they do. Until you've cleaned up someone else's shit (literally) from the bathroom just five minutes after you just cleaned it because someone thought it would be funny, or mopped up urine from a kid's play area, don't talk about what you don't know.

When you say they should just get a real job, you blow my mind. Are you saying you'd like all fast-food locations to shut down? Because if no one works there — since they'll all be working real jobs, how will you get a Big Mac for lunch? Oh, that's right, only high school students are supposed to work there. OK, so you're good with only getting a burger between the hours of 3 p.m. and about 8 p.m.? Kids have to go to school, do their homework, and sleep sometimes.

It sounds ridiculous because it is.

These are the services we want, we use, and we like — from French fries to overpriced T-shirts. Someone has to do that job. It doesn't mean they shouldn't make a living wage from it. And until you've been there and done the work, you don't really know how hard they work.

Okay, I'll get off my fast-food soapbox. Let's talk about other people who work minimum-wage jobs:

  • Lifeguards
  • Home care aides
  • Farm workers

I don't think anyone would consider those people lazy, but they can make as little as minimum wage — and even if they're married and their spouse is bringing in minimum wage, they're still poor. I don't recommend calling the lifeguard who saves you from drowning or the home care aide who bathes your grandmother and wipes her butt lazy.

Ah, I got it. You're not referring to the working poor as lazy. You're ticked off at all the lazy poor people on welfare who have no job and are mooching off the system. They're probably all drug addicts and eating steak for dinner that they purchased with the food stamps.

Actually, not quite.

Between 2009 and 2011, 56% of all financial aid went to working households. In 2012, only 13.2% of those receiving food stamps went to households with no working adults. The sad reality is that after children, the elderly, and the disabled, most benefits go to working people.

Instead of name-calling, pointing fingers, and looking down on people who do jobs we're probably all very grateful we don't have to do, can we direct our anger in a different direction? The guy who rode his bike to work, stood on his feet with few breaks for eight hours, and then rode to his next job probably isn't the one who deserves your ire. And damnit, he's definitely not lazy!

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