The worst-paying jobs in America


Jeez, 22%?!?

But don’t worry, America! Surely, many of those folks are actually working two lowest-wage fast food jobs. So it’s all good.

(I sometimes look back at my SSA recaps of my early-20s employment history – as a foodservice cook – and wonder that I survived at all. Some years, I barely cracked 10k, and I was pretty consistently/fully employed. Shit, I made $10/hr running a kitchen, once.)


This kind of thing is inexcusable. I made more than that fast food guy while I was a grad student, and grad students work for next-to-nothing.

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I worked in fast food while going to college. It was probably the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. It was also way more mentally demanding than you’d think. It was Taco Bell, so it was like a food assembly line in the kitchen part. Special orders would come up and you’d have to put it all together at breakneck speed so serving time didn’t exceed what was allowed.

If you were a cashier at the front, you had to input orders accurately and make corrections as the customer did, all while being responsible for cleaning the customer-accessible part of the restaurant.

If you were on the drive-through, you might be taking one order on a headset, taking money for another order, and filling up drinks at the same time. And when you ran out of customers, it was your job to do the dishes. Which were on the other side of the building. Usually about the time you’d stick your hands in the sink, another car would come in. And since this is Canada, that cold air coming in the window would be just what your wet hands needed.

After being on my feet for that many hours in a row, I’d often wake up silently screaming from the pain of a muscle cramp in my calves. At the time, minimum wage was $6.85 per hour. After one year I received one raise…to $6.90 per hour.


It’s demanding work, for sure. And the pay is generally demeaning, to boot.

I had an owner who didn’t want to give me a raise from (a comparatively high) $8.25, after I’d been stuck at that rate for a year. This wasn’t fast food, mind you, but a higher-end white tablecloth place. He offered me a chance at health insurance, which I can appreciate now, but that at the time was simply insulting; so, not only do you refuse to pay me enough to cover rent and food, but now you expect me to jump at paying money out?!?

Anyway. Once I moved on to slightly more “real” jobs, I gave hiring priority to people who had a significant history in those sorts of trenches. Rreeaaalllyyy cuts down on entitlement and petty whining issues.

And people who cop a sneering “just world” attitude towards service workers – of all stripes – can just go eff themselves. I honestly think it should be a legal requirement to do that sort of work before accepting a “good” job.



this x 10000000000000000000

if you’ve ever worked with people without prior service industry experience, those people tend to be the lousiest, most ineffectual co-workers. not in every case, of course.

it’s an entirely different mindset that comes with “doing a job immediately, according to the demand and whims of the general public, and each order is different. Oh, AND the client is watching you do your work the whole time.” in this way, restaurant work has more in common with being an EMT or active duty military than most people realize. except we’re also expected to be polite to a fault.


I did this work too, but I would prefer that the exploited workers gaining a right to a ‘real’ job being a bit less exploited should at least be exploited by the public fighting forest fires or helping in libararies, not offered up as a corporate welfare sacrifice to the gods of fast food.


I think part of the problem is our perceptions of who works at these jobs. The expectation is that fast good is staffed entirely by teen agers, who don’t “need” good wages - it’s pocket money, the most they might have to pay is their insurance or car payment, but we expect that the majority of that is gas, clothing, and entertainment money for people who aren’t having to pay rent or for others in their households (this in itself is probably wrong and problematic - I wonder how many teenagers actually are actively contributing to household expenses, often at the expense of their educations!). But I think that those who do fast food work tend to be older now and are bread winners in their families. Women and men with children.

We need a living wage in this country… we really do.


A socially immature society will always find a way to withhold a real living to those who a critical mass considers undeserving; teens, minorities, college students, women, migrant workers. This social maturity is not a factor of the age of the ethnic/national group but is demonstrated by a society who acts like a responsible adult would to all of its members, not just the heroes or the ones who can afford to influence policy, sadly even the not well off sometimes use their votes to punish others so that they feel better.
The only way I can see to balance the playing field is to progressively tax domestic consumption not assets or income and to also provide a basic income so people wont be so easily exploited to work 12-14 hour days and phone standby split shifts just to afford rent, the current system only subsidizes the corporate owners with desperate potential employees bidding down the price of labor to minimum legal wage. The wealthy can offshore wealth and even production, but they cant offshore their lifestyle unless they want to go expat or live in a hovel eating canned beans except for vacations.

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Not everyone can do service work.

When I am just trying to run errands, I have serious trouble dealing with the crowds, the noise, the strobe lights, the scents, and especially the infernal machines that go beep.

I have collapsed in-store after a couple minutes of exposure, and then been insulted for it.

I can’t imagine how anyone could handle several hours of exposure.

And having to be around people the whole time…


I’m on board with a better system of taxation and even a basic income, for sure. though, maybe part of the overall problem, is that it’s all in terms of financial/economic expectations - why not create a system of guaranteed housing, health care, food, and education, instead? I’m not sure how that would work, but why not gurantee the things that are most vital to be able to live, as opposed to just looking to handing out cash to ameliorate the problems associated with the growth of the modern economy in the first place? (sorry, these are sort of half-baked ideas right now).

As I point out, it’s probably not much better to deprive teenagers of a living wage than it is an adult, just because they are teenagers and it’s assumed that they don’t need it… in fact, I’d guess that the majority of teens who have jobs do so more out of necessity now. From what I understand of public school, students are so loaded down with homework that if they work, they fall behind academically. Ideally, teenagers would be able to focus on their education, but we all know that isn’t the case for far too many.

That being said, I’m not sure I know what this means? That we’re evolving in a certain direction, but we are “immature” somehow as a society? That history has a predetermined course that we can chart and predict and we are on a particular course? The US is what it is, I’d say, and if we want it to change, we can’t wait on more enlightened or progressive policies to appear [edited to add: not that I think that this is what you’re advocated], because that’s how things evolve. We have to make them happen collectively through the political system or otherwise. Honestly, I’ve always been skeptical of the notion of progress, in terms of society as an evolving entity. It’s probably the enlightenment idea I’m most skeptical of and weirdly, it’s probably the one most tied to Marxist thought. Go figure, I guess.

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Not to put words in dobby’s mouth, but I get the impression that “socially immature society” in this case simply means “a society which is operating under consensus/conclusions that are capricious or unfair.” I could be wrong about the intent, but I’ve seen this line of attack used – and used it myself – as a way of indicating that as a young country, the United States hasn’t grown into an empathetic approach to handling societal problems. However, maturity isn’t necessarily equivalent to gentleness, or even wisdom. Because, after all, we all know someone who is plenty mature in how they go about being heartless assholes, right? Or, in other words, it’s entirely possible to be measured and assured in one’s callousness.

I hear ya. I think there’s a tendency to look at a society that has (vaguely speaking) existed for a long time (Rome is a classic example) and consider it as more evolved. Observing something over such a lengthy arc can give that impression, and it’s not exactly inaccurate. But zoomed in closer, every era of a given society will evidence “immature” silliness. For example, we can argue that the US is evolving in terms of issues of gender/sexual identity over the long term, but the prohibitions and debates can – at any given time – seem backwards, frivolous, or exceedingly emotional. Two steps forwards, etc.

I get what @dobby is saying, too and fully agree in terms of how uncaring our culture and society has become, but US society, historically, has always been loath to imagine that people who are oppressed don’t somehow deserve it for not being republican enough (small r republican, not like the political party). But I think there are plenty of people who see the US as the culmination of a much longer set of historical processes, the shift towards an individualistic, classically liberal society, and as such, it’s the “pinnacle” of western civilization. That’s my issue with it. It’s sort of modernization theory, that all societies evolve along a certain track and if they are not on that track they must be backwards. It ignores the fact that there are multiple modernities to be had. The second/communist world was an example of that and was why modernization theory existed. Some Islamists thinking is also a different way of thinking about modernity… Laura Deeb, I think her name was, called her book about Hezbollah and gender “An Enchanted Modern” and it deals with how many Islamists don’t see an either/or dichotomy between religious faith and a democratic/technology driven society.

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You’ve got it backwards. The poor spend 100% of their income - often more. The really rich only “consume” 10%, or 5 or 1. The rest gets invested. So a consumption tax, like a sales tax is utterly regressive.

The most progressive tax I know of is real estate tax, which is why there is none at the Federal level, and I think none of the 50 states has one either. How much real estate do you think that fast food chef owns?


I think you’re on the mark there. It goes along with the notion that property is so sacrosanct, that to tax it is tantamount to robbery or bribery. The only argument for a consumption tax as being progressive is if you tax the stuff that is the least needed at a progressively higher rate - you don’t tax food, basic clothing, diapers, a cheap car with no bells or whistles, but you do tax big houses, yachts, luxury cars, etc.

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That’s true, but it’s intensely artificial. Somebody somewhere has to decide if Vienna Sausages are a staple or a luxury, and so on. Once we’ve finally nailed the official list of Things Rich People Like, their tastes will change. But there has never been a time when rentiers got tired of land.


Ooohhh, I think I see… I read you as talking about how we never really get to “there” (a perfected society). But you were really talking about the multitude of “theres” we could be heading towards?

Very interesting!

yes to everything you said, but i think there is some validity to the libertarian idea that real estate taxes undermine personal stability. they can price out lower income holders from owning property, and it can also make retirement difficult.
real estate transactions taxes - and, stock trading taxes already please - might work better than taxes on simply having the property.

Actually, land value taxes hit rentiers and speculators and reduce land prices.

And from a libertarian standpoint, it’s hard to justify property in stolen land.

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While I’m certainly all for pushing for improvements, I’m not sure if we can ever get to a perfected society. Maybe the best we can ever hope for is one that just doesn’t suck? I dunno.