As the wealth disparity grows in the United States, and growing it is, more and more people have to struggle harder and harder just to survive. Good jobs are going overseas while companies and even some states connive to keep wages low and benefits almost non-existent. States controlled by Republicans, in particular, seem hellbent on not raising the minimum wage, or, worse yet, trying to reduce or eliminate it. The focus is all too often the health and survival of the company - and not the individual worker.
There was a story in the September 28th edition of The New York Times about a 32-year-old woman named Maria Fernandes who died while napping in her car. Maria had been working three shifts (days, nights, and weekends) at three different Dunkin' Donuts in three different New Jersey communities for the past eighteen months, and she often slept in her SUV between shifts. Maria would normally sleep with the motor running, and she kept a can of gas in the car in case it ran out of gas during her sleep. She had to make it to work on time and could not chance being late due to an empty tank. During her last nap Maria accidentally kicked the gas can over and died inhaling the fumes.
Dunkin' Donuts told the Times reporter that Maria was a "model employee," but they declined to say how much they were paying their model employee or how many hours she worked.
Minimum wage in New Jersey is $8.25 an hour.
It's a sad day in America when CEOs are making more than they can spend, while others have to work three jobs just to make it up onto the bottom rung of the economic ladder.
For those who would like a more in-depth look at the slimy underbelly of America's service industry, may I suggest the modern classic on the subject, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. The author, a well known journalist and muckraker, went undercover for three extended periods of time: first as a waitress, then as a house-cleaner with a professional "maid" company, and finally as a Walmart "associate." Ehrenreich takes the reader right into America's corporate heart of darkness, and she pulls no punches.
Don't expect to sleep peacefully when you've finished reading Nickel and Dimed.