The Guardian and numbers again

Fran works six days a week in fast food, and yet she’s homeless: ‘It’s economic slavery’

Hmm.

Despite working six days a week, Marion, 37, a single mother of two, can’t make ends meet on the $9.50 an hour she gets at Popeyes (no apostrophe – founder Al Copeland joked he was too poor to afford one). A fast food worker for 22 years, Marion has almost always had a second job. Until recently, she had been working 9am-4pm at Popeyes,

9 (Ah, 7, so it is) hours without a break is illegal. So, no, don’t believe it really.

She worries that all this pressure is bad for her – self-diagnosed – high blood pressure. Like 28 million other Americans, she doesn’t have health insurance. She hasn’t seen a doctor in her adult working life.

It’s also 41 hours a week, meaning she’s over the 30 hours for healthcare if she’s working for a large employer at least. Perhaps she’s working for a franchisee, who might not be covered by that legal requirement to offer health insurance. But then, of course, she’s not working for Popeyes, is she?

Oh, and, over 40 hours she’ll be getting time and half overtime. Even without that she’s on near $400 a week. Sure, not a huge sum but $21,000 a year is not economic slavery.

And, umm, no, she won’t be doing 54 (41, still unlikely) hours because employers really don’t like paying that sort of overtime.

As so often with these Guardian tales of woe they just don’t add up (yes,I get the amusement here, sigh).

Our other example:

Bridget and Demetrius are hardly doing better. She earns $9 an hour at Wendy’s, Demetrius makes $9.50 an hour working at a gas station. Rent and bills, including childcare, come to about $800 a month, and they are barely scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck.

Full time? That’s getting to $800 a week there. Rent and bills are 25% of household income? Including child care? Plenty of people would be very happy with those sorts of ratios.

The numbers just aren’t adding up, are they?

As ever when The Guardian presents us with these stories of poverty they just can’t seem to pay attention to the contradictions of the numbers they present us with.

22 comments on “The Guardian and numbers again

  1. One of my kids has just got herself a part-time job, working in the McDonalds in our nearest town.
    She’s sixteen, just done her GCSEs, and earns £7.20 an hour (more than many other branches, I assume there’s managerial discretion, or it’s the franchisee, or something).
    She doesn’t eat their food, being your standard teenage veggie, and has had to put up with the merciless ribbing of her mates, who all work in artisanal cafes and scented candle shops for £4.05 ph every other Saturday, but she can choose her own shifts, there’s 35 hours available if she wants it during the hols, the work is piss-easy and the other people who work there are decent people, most in the 18-25 range.
    When or if she goes to university she will be able to transfer her seniority with her and may well be a part-time shift manager by then.
    (I’d advise anyone with kids of that age to get them to have a look at it, actually.)
    She gets a free meal each shift (which she doesn’t want) and a 2/1 card which she uses to buy her mates the junk food they mock her for serving. Which amuses me.
    Most importantly, for me and my wife, she’s learning a bit of discipline, and to think ahead and knuckle down a bit.

    But it’s not designed to be the sort of job you would want to raise a fucking family on.

  2. She hasn’t seen a doctor in her adult working life.

    I haven’t seen a doctor in my adult life either. Except of course when I’m drinking with one in the pub.

  3. I wonder how it would cost the Guardian to employ a mathematician whose job would be to checks the numbers on a story to make sure things aded up and made sense.
    On the other hand, said mathematician would end being hated by all the journalists and opinion piece writers for pointing out the problems with their articles.

  4. Just realised something. The $800 a week wages are pretax. The $800 a month living costs are after tax. So it is not really 25% of their earnings going on living costs. According to http://us.icalculator.info/ , a $400 a week salary (in Kansas) nets $340 after taxes. For two people thats $680 a week.

    So $800 is about 31.25% of their monthly income, based on an average 4 weeks a month (not the most accurate way of calculating monthly income but it will do).

    Sorry, I’ll get my coat…….

  5. And we’ve also not added back in food stamps, EITC and the rest. Couple with a couple of kids on that sort of money? They’d get something I think. don’t forget, that includes child care and “rent poverty” is 30% of household income on rent alone.

  6. Interested,

    I would prefer my kids working in McDonald’s than an artisan cafe, because big businesses are far better to work for as a kid than small ones. Mate of mine worked a summer in one and said it was the best managed company he’d ever worked in.

    That artisan cafe owner will either be ignorant of laws, or good health and safety, or more generally, be abusive. They’re mostly terrible businesses underneath the veneer of Guardian reading respectability. People with no clue, desperate for results with little experience.

  7. That artisan cafe owner will either be ignorant of laws, or good health and safety, or more generally, be abusive. They’re mostly terrible businesses underneath the veneer of Guardian reading respectability. People with no clue, desperate for results with little experience.

    And if he’s a lefty type, will rail about injustice, “the rich”, exploitation of the working class etc. while acting as the worst lefty caricature of a top-hatted capitalist towards his own employees.

    Have seen it myself – my brother in law (a chef) was for a while being exploited massively by his “employers”. Basically he was working for them for free, for “the exposure”. So it stuck in his craw somewhat when they went off on lefty boilerplate rants about exploitation.

  8. Yes, indeed. A recent article complained that house prices had risen 1,400% since 1997, instead of 140%. Without mentioning, of course, that interest rates in 1997 were around 6% rather than .5% today.

  9. BoM4 – yep. She’s been waitressing since 14, and two of the pub landlords she’s worked for have been utter cunts. They are under a lot of financial pressure, mind you, but reducing a 14-year-old girl on £3.75 a hour to tears multiple times, the last because she forgot to take a spoon out with the creme brulee, deserves and nearly got one of them a horsewhipping. In the end I settled for telling him what I thought of him and making sure to spread the story about. (I’m not at all the kind of person who thinks his kids can’t be bollocked, either.) Maccy Ds is excellent – very relaxed, good training, work when you want. She will even get holiday pay.

  10. Yep I’ve heard good things about McDonald’s. A former colleague spoke well about their training programmes.

  11. Somewhat off topic but seen when I was reading the article to determine whether it was all nonsense (trivially answered ‘Yes’).

    To my immense surprise, a (mostly) sensible article from Paul Mason. Because, I suspect, it has nothing about economics or “social justice” in it.

  12. I’m sure Marion is a lovely lady, but fast-food waitressing is not a job which pays a living wage any more than being a paper boy is.

    ‘Despite attaching cigarette cards to his wheels to make it sound like a motor bike, young Jimmy still can’t deliver enough papers to put down a deposit on a modest semi.’

    The story here is that the Guardian is making a story of this.

    In tomorrow’s edition, Tesco shelf-stacker struggling to support aging parents and two siblings.

    The question is do we make such jobs illegal and put Marion completely out of work, as Guardian-reading minimum-wage advocates insist we must.

  13. But it’s not designed to be the sort of job you would want to raise a fucking family on.

    This. Popeye’s jobs are supposed to be for inexperienced teenagers learning about the world of work and giving them some pocket money, not single mothers with two kids.

  14. “And if he’s a lefty type, will rail about injustice, “the rich”, exploitation of the working class etc. while acting as the worst lefty caricature of a top-hatted capitalist towards his own employees.”
    Tell me about it. The business I used to run in trendy North London was infested with these assholes. Murder to get money out of & treated my guys like shit . BBC employees were the worst. Best were the ordinary working class folk, especially pensioners. I’d shave prices if we had the spare capacity simply because I felt we were out there actually doing some good in the world. Nothing more rewarding seeing some old dear getting a top class job done. Grateful rather than resentful for being obliged to pay for it. They’d buy special biscuits to go with the guys’ tea they wouldn’t afford for themselves.

  15. ‘Despite attaching cigarette cards to his wheels to make it sound like a motor bike, young Jimmy still can’t deliver enough papers to put down a deposit on a modest semi.’

    Wat Dabney owes me a keyboard.

  16. Interested – there’s a guy not far from me who left uni in the early 90s. He started out like your kid, working shifts in his local Mcdonalds. Over time he got promoted, eventually saved up and got a loan and ran his own business.
    Last I looked he had 4 Mcdonalds franchises after 20 years. Pretty sure he has raised a family.
    Back when I started work Mcdonalds were offering 3 times what I was earning for their trainee managers. There were people in my office raising a family on what I was earning.

    People manage to raise families on minimum wage. There are jobs where people do seek promotion and advance, earning more than minimum wage and raise families on that.
    There’s people on benefit raising families.

    With ambition there is no requirement to stay on minimum wage, pay is a ladder not just a bed.

  17. Some years ago, I was a manager of a Bojangles (“famous chicken and biscuits”). The morning shift was all married women with children in school with someone to get the kids off. The afternoon/evening shift was parolees, college kids and those working a second job.

    Our main biscuit make was the only one with ambition and she eventually made it to Shift Leader and stayed over a dozen years.

  18. Martin – you can’t raise a family on a basic McDonald’s worker’s wage where I live – housing etc. But sure, if you work your way up to owning for restaurants you can. You can’t live high on the hog as an Army private, but the CDS does okay. Ditto, teachers/superheads etc.

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