It’s Take Action Wednesday (Yeah, I know it’s Thursday)!

In today’s edition, I am a day late and a few paragraphs longer leading into the suggested actions. So, Talia Jane’s story about working hard and not making it has made the rounds this week. Lots of folks have already weighed in but that’s not gonna discourage me from talking about it.

There’s been a lot of inter-generational misconnect. As a middle-aged person myself, I can say that I haven’t yet seen a generation that hasn’t said, “you kids, you want it so easy, not like us, we worked hard” to the younger one. Boomers said it to Gen-Xers, Gen-X said it to Gen-Y, and now everyone’s saying it to Millenials. If every generation assumes they worked hard and the upcoming generation is a bunch of lazy slackers, how does that explain the ongoing progress of civilization as a whole? If you can admit we move a little bit forward on multiple fronts – from life expectancy, to technology that helps with everyday life, to social equality – then you have to admit that the generation younger than you is, in fact, working just as hard as you did even if you don’t understand how they work or what their job entails.

So maybe something else is going on?

Well, let’s start with Yelp!’s job listings. I will admit that I did not open every single one but I did open a bunch. And? Every single one I opened requires at least a bachelors degree. Now, before we all get on our “I went to state school,” “I lived with my parents,” “I got a scholarship,” “join the Army” soapboxes to try to explain why no one should graduate with college debt (despite the fact that the national average is $29k), let’s admit that getting a bachelors degree costs something. If not in money, than in work or time or other sacrifice. Getting a bachelors degree, historically, has been an investment. You put in something – money, work, etc. in a non-reciprocal way in the hopes that later you can turn a profit from the investment. It’s not that far off from the economics of flipping a house, really – initial investment, a period of both hard work and losing more money than you’re bringing in while busting your butt, profit.

The problem is that the investment is no longer paying out. Corporations are making bachelors degrees entry-level requirements without paying wages commensurate to the task of having acquired a degree. Assuming Talia Jane’s in a 25% tax bracket, her $8.15/hr before taxes is about $10.20/hr. Paying someone $10.20/hr is fine so long as you don’t require them to have an expensive qualification for the job. Fast food joints want to pay $10/hr. Fine. I mean, I don’t like it, I think $15/hr is more fair but at least they don’t require you to have laid out a bunch of money to get the qualification to get the gig.

I graduated college in 2000. I applied all Spring so I would graduate with a job. I got one. A boring entry-level job at an HMO shoving paperwork around. See? I was not some pie-in-the-sky English major too good to do a boring job or pay dues. I was offered $22k/yr which seemed OK. With a 37.5/hr work week, it amounted to a little more than $11/hr. I hadn’t hit the job jackpot but any stretch of the phrase but I could afford to live in a relatively safe/cool/hip area of a Boston suburb, share an apartment with 1 roommate, pay my bills, and get some Chinese take-out or go bowling a couple times a month. Adjusted for inflation, today,  my $11/hr would be about $15/hr.

Pressing the fast-forward button, I am now middle-aged and solidly middle-income. I have a decent job. I don’t love it, it’s not my dream job but it pays the bills and my work team is a pretty good group of people. After paying all of our necessary expenses (and yes, I really mean necessary – like mortgage on a 780 sq/ft house, electricity, heat, water, food), then secondary expenses (Internet, costs associated with 1 used car, stuff for our 2 dogs, clothes/shoes, etc.), the majority goes toward our student loans (about $700/each).

There is not much left over. No, I’m not inviting you all to a pity party at our place. Where I am going with this: because there is little left over, we have little purchasing power. We don’t buy a lot of stuff, we hardly ever go out to restaurants, more than anything we spend our leftover money on traveling. Anyway, since we don’t buy much or spend money on services, we don’t create much demand for stuff or services. We also don’t save a whole lot of money or invest in stocks or other financial products that could help fund new businesses.

I’m not all that atypical in my mediocrity. Now, take a few million of me and you’ll see what happens when a few million people can’t afford extras. Jobs manufacturing that stuff or providing services, gone (or are sourced at lower hourly rates, creating more workers who can’t buy anything extra). While I think free college is a good idea long-term (because an educated populace with good jobs and money to spend will create jobs by spending money, creating demand for goods/services), I’d be content if our student loan payments weren’t 1/4-5/8 of our net take-home pay.

But I digress. I came here to talk about unethical employers. Like I said, I don’t love the low wages for fast food and retail. But what Yelp! is doing is unethical – it’s unethical for a corporation to require a degree and then not pay someone a fair wage commensurate to having done the work and spent the money to meet the requirement that they set to qualify for the job. Yelp! is essentially trying to spend $5 to get a 5-course meal at a 3-Michelin-star restaurant.

HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO (ANY ONE OF THESE HELPS):
1) Stop posting reviews on Yelp! User reviews, our content, our unpaid labor, is what makes Yelp! valuable. Without our content, their site is useless. Stop giving your free labor to a company that doesn’t treat their paid labor fairly
2) Stop using Yelp! Find a way to get advice in other ways. Do something old-fashioned like trying a new place without any preconceived notions and just see what happens!
3) Call your elected officials – state and federal – and demand that they support a minimum wage properly adjusted for and indexed to inflation.
3) Sign a petition to rein in some of Yelp!’s monopoly:
Ask Google to hold them accountable: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/pay-it-forward-ban-yelp
4) And, yes, this is bigger than Yelp! If you are a generation (or more) older than Millenials, SPEAK UP when you hear older people minimizing the real problem of companies requiring a college degree without being willing to pay wages commensurate to that requirement. If “college is the new high school,” meaning that college is  just something every company is going to require, then college needs to be as accessible as high school, right? Educate your older peers that this is not about “kids these days,” that Millenials are facing an unprecedented uphill battle
5) Just because “all companies” do this, doesn’t make it OK. Resist language that normalizes corporate exploitation of workers. Support whistle-blowers even if they’re not perfect workers. Try to see it this way:
US economy in a nutshell - Imgur.gif
You are the guy in the grey shirt, corporations are the guy in the bow-tie. Join forces with the Millenial in the striped shirt instead of berating him as a lazy crumb-eater.

MORE READING:
The Institute for College Access & Success
What Everyone is Missing in Talia Jane’s Open Letter to Yelp! CEO
Raise the Minimum Wage

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