I very rarely go to fast food places but, last week, we were out all morning and felt famished. Rather than drive all the way home for lunch, we stopped at a McDonald’s. I went in , placed our order and moved aside to wait for it.
As I was standing there, idly looking at the menu choices, a voice penetrated my consciousness. Another customer was placing his order and this was the conversation.
” One cheeseburger”.
” Is that all ?” The counterman wasn’t being rude; he was just clueless.
I took a closer look at the customer. He was an elderly man, probably in his seventies. Lined face, wispy white hair, bespectacled, a mouth missing some teeth. Dressed in some sort of uniform, a name patch and a company logo on his grimy shirt which was hanging half out of his pants.
It was lunch time and he was probably on his lunch break. As I watched, he tendered his money … a dollar bill and seven cents. Exact change.
I thought about the order he had placed. A cheese burger : one thin meat patty, a thinner slice of cheese and a smear of ketchup in a small bun. Only 230 calories. A “meal” for a little kid, not for a workingman; but it had the advantage of being cheap. Only a dollar and, most likely, only what the man could afford.
For decades now, our feckless politicians have made the ideal of the American Dream ever more difficult to achieve. For an ever larger proportion of the population it has become an impossibility, a cruel hoax. The old gentleman was no doubt working at a minimum wage job to augment his social security check. A minimum wage of $ 8.38/ hour which translates to about $ 16,760 a year, even supposing that he was able to work full-time. More likely, it was part-time job which did not offer medical benefits. Our politicians have no idea what it is like to live on so little. At the same time that they work to get ever more tax breaks for the affluent, they try to hold the line on the minimum wage and strive to cut Medicare benefits.
Somehow, our politicians have sold the American public the idea that low-level jobs are not worth any more. That most of them are staffed by part-timers and students who will soon go on to better paying work and that if they don’t it is their own fault because they are lazy and unmotivated. The truth is that computers and outsourcing have drastically affected the demand for workers and those who are at the bottom of the pyramid, those with a high school degree or less, have no chance of escaping their poverty. Even if they work at multiple jobs or if there is more than one wage earner in the family, they are always on the knife-edge of disaster.
My ruminations were cut short by the voice of the counterman.
” Number 52. One Big Mac. One Quarter-pounder with cheese. Large fries.”
Quietly, I picked up my order and stole away.