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Sat Jun 9, 2012, 02:38 PM

Only 13.5 Percent of Food Workers Earn a Living Wage

Americans love to talk about food—how asparagus is best prepared, which preservatives to avoid, which types of fish are in peril, where to find the best tacos or most delectable peach pies. Most of us spend far less time contemplating the people that pick, slaughter, sort, process, and deliver the products of this 1.8 trillion dollar industry—a group of workers that makes up one-sixth of the country's workforce.

Lowest Paying Jobs and Median Wages
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011
1. Combined Food Prep and Serving: $18,230
2. Fast Food Cooks: $18,300
3. Dishwashers: $18,360
4. Dining Room/Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers: $18,420
5. Shampooers: $18,420
6. Gaming Dealers: $18,460
7. Counter Attendants (Cafeteria, Food Concession, and Coffee Shop): $18,510
8. Hosts and Hostesses: $18,560
9. Waiters and Waitresses: $18,570
10. Ushers, Lobby Attendents, and Ticket Takers: $18,610

Unfortunately, the majority of these workers take home crummy wages and few benefits, according to a new report from the Food Chain Workers Alliance. Perhaps most strikingly, among workers surveyed by the FCWA, only 13.5 percent made a liveable wage (an amount FCWA defines as higher than 150 percent of the regional poverty level). And not a single agricultural worker of around the 90 surveyed said they earned enough to live on.

The Food Chain Workers Alliance survey results echo sobering realities about jobs across what the FCWA calls "the food chain": a vast network of laborers in the production, processing, and distribution of food. In 2011, the lowest-paying jobs nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were combined food preparers and servers and fast food cooks; restaurant servers and hosts, farmworkers, baristas, and food preparers didn't trail far behind (and all made it in the bottom twenty).

"Jobs in the food system aren't seen as high skilled," says Joann Lo, Executive Director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. "It's hard work; you need to know the right way to cut a chicken in a poultry plant. But the general perception is that they are low skilled and don't deserve good wages." Overall, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, food workers earn less than workers in other industries:


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Reply Only 13.5 Percent of Food Workers Earn a Living Wage (Original post)
MindMover Jun 2012 OP
Sherman A1 Jun 2012 #1
drokhole Jun 2012 #2
Motown_Johnny Jun 2012 #3
KoKo Jun 2012 #5
RebelOne Jun 2012 #4
justabob Jun 2012 #6
KoKo Jun 2012 #8
Egalitarian Thug Jun 2012 #7

Response to MindMover (Original post)

Sat Jun 9, 2012, 03:32 PM

2. It's absolutely tragic...

Beyond tragic, even.

I've been listening to the audiobook version of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit and the stories are absolutely gut-wrenching. Not only about what's happened to the tomato itself and modern/industrial agriculture's effects on it, but especially the migrant laborers. Most work 10-12 hour days in the sweltering hot sun and are lucky to bring home $200 dollars a week. The average annual salary is $10,000-$12,000 (from what I recall, "poverty" is considered $23,000 per year) - and that figure is skewed because of the higher salaries of the land managers. And they hardly hang on to any of it. A large majority of the money goes towards paying off extortionate fees for "room & board," paying off artificially imposed "debts," and, if they're lucky to have some left, food. Oh, and the "room & board" often consists of stuff like having eight workers stuffed into one small trailer with no running water or A/C (in at least one case, 4 men where crammed into the back of a box truck).

On top of the bruising work and living conditions, workers are frequently threatened with violence, outright beaten, or even killed. And on top of that, they are regularly sprayed with dangerous pesticides while working in the fields. Which is supposed to be illegal, and which the Big Agra companies deny doing. This led to one female worker's baby being born with no arms and legs. Another woman's was born with a deformity of the lower jaw. And yet another whose child had one ear, no nose, a cleft palate, one kidney, no anus and no visible sexual organs (a girl who died three days after being born). Yet the company still denied it.

Most people don't realize that the "cheap" food in the supermarket (both processed foods and Big-Agra produce) is anything but. Not only thanks to cheap (near slave) labor, but cheap (for the time being) energy (in the form of fertilizers, pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, and transportation). And the subsidies, too. But, hey, out of sight, out of mind.

While what they do might not be considered "high skilled" (which is an argument for another day), they are most certainly high-value. And absolutely essential. Not only is what they do essential in the supply chain, it's essential that we eat food. If they didn't do what they do, those Big Agra CEOs would not be raking in millions of dollars, because they wouldn't have a product at all to sell. That goes for the Wal-Mart supermarket type CEOs, who profit from selling the products at mark-up. And there's the simple fact that the majority of Americans wouldn't eat.

By saying they aren't "high skilled," it makes people feel justified in paying them and treating them like shit.

(Here's a pretty good article on the book)

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Response to MindMover (Original post)

Sat Jun 9, 2012, 04:10 PM

3. I'm gonna get flamed for this but the problem is illegal labor


I started working in restaurants in my early teens. As soon as I figured out I could make more money with less hours than my paper route I switched.

Over a decade later I went to, what was then, the most accredited culinary school in the world and graduated with a B+ average. (Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park NY graduated 2/1/91)

I spent over 25 years in that industry and I can tell you without any hesitation that the reason pay is so low is that illegal workers are willing to do the work with no regard for labor laws. They don't expect to be paid overtime and most don't even worry about minimum wage. They prefer to be paid under the table so they don't pay any taxes. They also don't care about the time off they are legally entitled to between shifts or the breaks they should receive during work. They don't even make workers compensation claims when/if they are injured. Legal laborers simply can't compete.

I now work for a friend who started his own landscaping business and the problem there is similar. We don't use any illegal labor but many of our competitors do. It is pretty easy to see what is going on when someone has us bid for a job, which we would put a 3 man crew on, and then we see another company there with 6 or 8 men on the job. It simply isn't possible to be above break even on these jobs if those workers were being paid what the law demands they should be paid.

I don't blame the individuals for this. I know they are just trying to make a better life for themselves and even being exploited here is better than the life they had elsewhere. It is still a problem for people who are trying to make a living legally and the numbers in that article illustrate the problem fairly well.

Exploitation is the problem and it needs to be dealt with or this will just continue to get worse.

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Response to Motown_Johnny (Reply #3)

Sat Jun 9, 2012, 04:58 PM

5. I know that's an unpopular view you have...but, what you say

has merit, and I won't trash you for it.

Keeping "wages low" is important for the food business. Making a profit in restaurant business is hard and with the growth of "chain restaurants" it get's more important for them to get investors in their stock.

Both McClatchy and the NYT have done articles about how illegals, foreign visa workers (promised internships here in America and were almost imprisoned at Hershey Plant in PA and resort communities like Myrtle Beach and NC Coast ...and other areas) and construction companies that during the Housing Bubble brought in illegals to cut costs.

What if these Restaurant Chains and Construction Companies had made an effort to hire our own people? Surely the training differences wouldn't be more costly for "illegals" as opposed to unskilled Americans who could have been trained in these jobs?

I now live in a "Right to Work" state and have seen it all here in my boom area...during that time.

Illegals were given preference over trying to give jobs to local people. Most times because the illegals or Foreign Visa workers could be brought in "en masse" and controlled. Putting "Want Ads" or Monster.Com ads at that time would have meant too long a time wait and interview time to allow our population "existing" to have the ability to make arrangements to move to where jobs were...and other problems.

I can see where the Business community needed to "move fast" to take advantage of a "Boom" but the downsize is what we are living with now.

(I could make my points clearer...but, don't have time...and will probably be attacked)...but, I think you make an excellent point. And I have a relative who went the culinary route...(cooking the love of his life) and others who got degrees in Landscaping (Green Revolution dreams) and both are now in different paths in different jobs.........

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Response to MindMover (Original post)

Sat Jun 9, 2012, 04:40 PM

4. My sister worked as a cocktail waitress in Miami,

and she earned enough in tips to buy a condo on Miami Beach. After that she became a postal worker for the USPS with a good salary and great benefits.

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Response to RebelOne (Reply #4)

Sat Jun 9, 2012, 05:05 PM

6. she was fortunate

There *are* waiters who do well... really well, but the vast majority make less than 20K with minimal benefits.

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Response to RebelOne (Reply #4)

Sat Jun 9, 2012, 05:20 PM

8. When did she buy that Condo...surely not during the Boom? And is her job secure now?

I worked with a person from UPS (United Parcel Service) who had been cut after 15 years service...and herpension and benefits were cut so she went into Real Estate Sales before the boom. We know our US Postal Workers (different from the UPS workers) are now going to be cut, with branches closed.

I hope your sister well and glad she was somehow successful....but, your post doesn't seem to jive with encounters I've had with people who worked as "Cocktail Waitresses" AND in an area like Miami Beach which has always and still is hugely expensive and USPS who was driving her route extended in the last few years working more than an 8 hour a day to keep her job.

Maybe you could give more info about the time period your sister was so successful in that might clarify why I find your post not so realistic compared to the people I know and have known and their own experiences.

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Response to MindMover (Original post)

Sat Jun 9, 2012, 05:14 PM

7. There are no easy jobs and there is no such thing as unskilled labor.


The idea that some of us don't deserve to make a living from the work we do is abhorrent. And the idea that it's just fine to import and abuse people that are even more desperate so that somebody else can make more by keeping wages down is criminal.

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