Reading this NPR piece on the Occupy Wall Street protests, I came upon a true “let them eat cake” moment:
One man, who declined to give his name, but said he has worked on Wall Street for nine years, just shook his head. He was wearing a grey wool coat and his hair was neat and combed back. He stood at that corner for a while.
“This is ridiculous,” he said. “I just don’t understand why they’re not out trying to find jobs.”
He said he works 75 to 80 hours a week, so he deserves to be part of the one percent. He says he chose a degree in finance so he could make a lot of money.
I told him what Nathan Storey had told me. He was laid off in 2008 and still couldn’t find a job.
The man shook his head.
“He could get jobs at McDonald’s,” he said. He conceded however that minimum wage isn’t much money and he said he was willing to pay more taxes.
But he said he truly believes if you want to make money in this country, you can work hard and do that.
“This is the land of opportunity,” he said.
There appears to be a disconnect in the anonymous gentleman’s statement that he entered finance so he “could make a lot of money” and his assertion that if you “want to make money in this country, you can work hard and do that.” Yes, “the land of opportunity” is the U.S.’s advertising slogan but that is as relevant in practice as “The King of Beers” is for Budweiser.
His McDonald’s comment is both unoriginal and condescending, as if working in the fast-food industry is a viable option for people who have trouble finding jobs. Sure, many companies are calluously choosing not to interview job applicants who are unemployed — their way of capitalizing further on the poor job market — but having McDonald’s on the resume won’t improve the situation.
He should also know that a bad economy usually doesn’t trickle down. It’s the jobs near the bottom of the 99 percent that are the first to fall. Why does he suppose there are all these job opportunities at McDonald’s? Or does he think any reasonably educated person is preferable to the usual applicants at the fast-food chain? If so, then what are they supposed to do if what used to be the middle class takes their jobs — find work as medical school cadavers?
But let’s propose that there are McDonald’s positions for anyone who wants one. The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Even if you had the opportunity to work 75 to 80 hours a week (you won’t, as you’d be eligible for benefits and overtime), that’s about $30K a year. You’ll be exhaisted and won’t see your family but you’ll be content with the knowledge that you can provide them with so little.
Meanwhile, after nine years, our guy on Wall Street is possibly making around $300 to $500K. That breaks down to around $100 an hour at a 75/80-hour work week, which is slightly more rewarding. He can also get sick once in a while and send his kids to college.
Obviously, our economy can’t work if everyone is either in the finance or fry-making industry. It’s also telling that there’s no other default job that people like this guy can mention. The underlying message is “go away, stop bothering me with your problems, and serve me.”
There is a difference between having a middle-class work ethic and being an all-day, licked down to the center of the Tootsie Roll pop sucker. It’s like being the doting boyfriend while your girlfriend is fooling around with your best friend, brother, uncle, father, and family priest. It can get to the point that even the noblest person would rather die annoying the 1 percent than quietly serve them for the off chance of a pat on the head.