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McDonald’s charity starts with employees

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Just in time for the holidays, your low-wage employer wants you to know it really cares. And would you mind tidying up the condiment stand on your way to the soup kitchen?

Once again, McDonald’s is showing its brilliance at employee relations. In July, recall, the company haplessly offered a sample budget for its employees, omitting the costs of gas and groceries and projecting fantasy monthly rents of $600, car payments of $150 and health insurance costs of $20.

Now the company has favoured the working poor with advice on stress relief, savings and health. On a website it hosts for employees, called McResource Line McDonald’s had this sage advice:

— Sell unwanted items on eBay or Craigslist to make some extra cash.

— Breaking food "into pieces" bits can help you feel more full.

— "Pack your bags" and take a vacation! Because, you know, people who take at least two vacations a year can cut their chance of heart attack by 50 percent.

You can almost picture the comfortable college graduate who pounded out these helpful "tips." That person probably takes a nice vacay at least once a year, along with long-weekend trips a plane ride away. He or she isn’t likely depending on two part-time jobs at $7.75 an hour to raise a family.

Not to be outdone, Walmart, another favourite target of living-wage agitators, had the curtain lifted on its own Dickensian reality to kick off the Season of Giving.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that in an employees-only area of a Walmart store in Canton, Ohio, bins were set out to collect food for fellow employees. "Please donate food items here, so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner," read a sign placed over the bins, as featured in a photo in the Plain Dealer.

"This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships," a company spokesman told the Plain Dealer.

Too bad it’s not part of the company’s culture to pay living wages. Or maybe it’s too bad that it’s not part of Americans’ political culture to raise the minimum wage.

To be fair, these gaffes came from a good place. But what rankles, in addition to that whole low-wage thing, is the condescension.

Please, corporate mandarins, spare your poor employees your wisdom on scrimping and saving. They know waaay more about that topic than you do.

Seriously. Want to see a problem-solver in action? Monitor a single mother of three with not enough cash available to meet basic needs. She’s constantly scrambling to keep her utilities from being cut off for unpaid bills and figure out how to quiet the rumbling bellies of her children.

The problem is, she’s usually just circumventing one crisis after another, never gaining enough financial security to turn the tide. It’s not because she doesn’t know how to manage money or to set priorities. It’s because she doesn’t have the money. It’s that simple. And that has to do with how much she gets paid.

And what you, McDonald’s and Walmart, refuse to pay her, we the taxpayers have to make up for (and we don’t do an adequate job of that!). A study released in October by the National Employment Law Project figured 52 per cent of fast food workers rely on public assistance, at a cost of nearly $7 billion a year.

So, would hiking the minimum wage improve things? (Some activists will be picketing Wal-mart on Black Friday to demand the minimum wage be almost doubled to $15 and hour.) Economists disagree on what affect raising the minimum wage would have on the economy. Some argue that workplaces would simply find ways to shrink employment, to outsource or mechanize operations further, which could mean fewer jobs, not more and better paying ones.

I’m not a whiz at economics, but I’ll tell you what I have observed in the heartland for many years. People are losing their income, or are afraid of losing their income, and they feel (often quite accurately) they are living riskier lives. The natural, "responsible" reaction is to quit spending. Pay down debt. Go without.

As a result, demand has been decimated in our economy. The real "job creators" — consumers like you and me and the stock clerk at Walmart — aren’t spending money and therefore are not creating jobs. What do you think a $10 minimum wage would do to aggregate demand? How about $12.50 or $15? Maybe somebody should ask Henry Ford, who knew that a well-paid workforce was good for business.

I also know this: A lot of blood, sweat and tears were shed in this country to obtain the working conditions and wage levels we take for granted. Which reminds me of some other choice advice from the McResource line: "Quit complaining. Stress hormones levels rise by 15 per cent after 10 minutes of complaining."

To heck with stress! What this country needs is a raise.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star.

 

 

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