For Al Jazeera English, I have a new article on low-wage workers and the end of upward mobility in America:
This lapse in priorities – in which things we buy are thought to be morally superior to people who sell them – parallels a change in the American perception of employment and social status. Jobs are no longer jobs but symbolic positions, indicative of where you come from and determinative of where you go.
The McDonald’s worker, the argument goes, deserves what she gets because she is a McDonald’s worker. The professional, it is said, deserves her success because she is a professional. But over the last decade, the barriers to entry for white-collar professions have dramatically increased while the pathways out of poverty have eroded. The job you work increasingly reflects the money you already had.
Upward mobility was once the hallmark of the American dream. Downward wages have made that dream unachievable for Americans born poor. One McDonald’s worker, Devonte Yates, is struggling to complete an Associate’s Degree in criminal justice – the path to a stable life through education so often recommended. But Yates can barely buy food on McDonald’s wages, much less pay his tuition.
Education is a luxury the minimum wage worker cannot afford. This message is passed on to their children. “My son is about to graduate from kindergarten, and I don’t even have enough money to get his cap and gown, and that’s only $20,” says McDonald’s worker Carman Iverson.
While many service workers live in poverty, well-off and well-educated professional workers increasingly find themselves working for poverty wages or for nothing at all. The Atlantic is one of many media outlets who covered the plight of the underpaid McDonald’s worker – while simultaneously refusing to pay many of their own writers.
Young Americans seeking full-time employment tend to find their options limited to two paths: one of low-status, low-paying temp jobs emblematic of poverty; another of high-status, low-paying temp jobs emblematic of wealth. America is not only a nation of temporary employees – the Walmart worker on a fixed-day contract, the immigrant struggling for a day’s pay in a makeshift “temp town” – but of temporary jobs: intern , adjunct , fellow.
Read the full article, The American dream: Survival is not an aspiration.