Note to Paul Ryan: There’s No Dignity in Low-Wage Work

  • submit to reddit
Demonstrators protesting for $15/hour wages and proper treatment for fast-food workers march in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Demonstrators protesting what they say are low wages and improper treatment for fast-food workers march in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The fast-food workers’ “Fight for 15″ campaign — a series of one-day strikes — was never only about low wages. It was also about dignity at the workplace — not being forced to work in harsh conditions, or being given unpredictable and constantly changing schedules or facing disciplinary actions for minor mistakes or retaliation for organizing.

At The Huffington Post, Emily Swanson and Arthur Delaney compare the realities people at the lower end of the labor market face with Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) rhetoric about the joys of making $7.25 per hour as a fry chef or a
dishwasher. 

They write:

Paul Ryan says the government safety net may protect Americans from the vicissitudes of life, but that handouts leave people unfulfilled in a more profound way.

“The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. “People don’t just want a life of comfort. They want a life of dignity — of self-determination.”

But most Americans don’t think handouts steal dignity from the poor, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. And few think there’s anything dignified about working for bad pay.

Ryan cited free school lunches as an example of something less-than-dignified, but by a 63 percent to 19 percent margin, most Americans said that giving free food to poor people does not undermine their dignity.

And although Ryan’s speech highlighted his belief in “the dignity of work,” the poll suggests not all work automatically pays in dignity. Only 30 percent of Americans said they think people working in low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough for basic expenses gain dignity from those jobs simply by virtue of working. Fifty-eight percent said they think a job needs to at least cover basic living expenses to give a person dignity.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post.

 

  • submit to reddit

BillMoyers.com encourages conversation and debate around issues, events and ideas related to content on Moyers & Company and the BillMoyers.com website.

  • The editorial staff reserves the right to take down comments it deems inappropriate.
  • Profanity, personal attacks, hate speech, off-topic posts, advertisements and spam will not be tolerated.
  • Do not intentionally make false or misleading statements, impersonate someone else, break the law, or condone or encourage unlawful activity.

If your comments consistently or intentionally make this community a less civil and enjoyable place to be, you and your comments will be excluded from it.

We need your help with this. If you feel a post is not in line with the comment policy, please flag it so that we can take a look. Comments and questions about our policy are welcome. Please send an email to info@moyersmedia.com

Find out more about BillMoyers.com's privacy policy and terms of service.

  • JonThomas

    Dignity cannot be gained without self-respect and self-worth. Though related, they are not the same. Worse, a person can easily be fooled by both – outside forces – and themselves. Dignity emanates from a true condition of worth, not just empty feelings of such.

    Dignity without value is pompousness… pomposity

    For example… look at Paul Ryan… he is trying to tell people that working for less than a living wage is a credible way to gain dignity. In fact, he is stripping these workers of value and self-worth. He is denying that a person should, or can exchange – the value of their time – for the cost to live.

    In effect he is saying… “You’re time is not worth (can not be exchanged for) your continued existence.”

    Thus, Paul Ryan has no value to those who(m?) are in such dire positions. He is not helping them one bit. He offers them less than nothing. He is taking away their dignity.

    He IS adding value to someone. He is adding value to the employers. His words are lies. His target benefactor is not the minimum wage employees, but the powerful business interests who serve the forces of profit. Profit looted from the time spent by minimum wage workers.

    Paul Ryan therefore has negated his self-worth to the people to whom he claims to be championing. He has stripped himself of dignity by claiming to help the powerless, but instead – actually selling them into servitude.

    No person should work for the Federal Minimum. Such wages equate to de facto-serfdom.

    Paul Ryan is worthless to everyone save those who would undervalue the lives of the powerless. He is therefore in spiritual league with those who would steal and cheat. Since he deems these people’s lives as worth less than the cost to live, and recommending that they work themselves literally into non-existence, he is in league with murderers.

    He should condemn any employer who would offer less than a living wage. To get on the side of the living, he should rightly encourage people to demand a living wage!

  • Wildfawn

    I don’t see any dignity in working long, hard hours doing menial labor for less money than it takes to barely survive, and getting kicked around and vilified in the process.

    Anyone who claims to be a Christian should believe that there is no lack of dignity in taking “handouts” either. Giving to the poor is one of the primary dictates of Jesus. If it’s going to demean the poor for us to do so, it seems a bit counterproductive–like making ourselves more righteous by demeaning others? Somehow I doubt that.

  • Moose

    Mr. Ryan’s Bible says something about not muzzling the ox.

  • Crysta

    Give a child a fish, every day, until they are an adult, and you give them a chance at least something of a life…

    Teach a child to fish, and conveniently overfish every stream, lake, and ocean, to the point of having no fish left to get for free. Then when they try to fish at the “fish farm” that was made to replace everything else, arrest the child, throw them in jail, and you have a child that hates you, but is being forced to work for you, for FREE. All because you essentially privatized food… And to top it all off, when the child refuses to thank you for your “generosity and mercy” you call them lazy and a drain on the economy…

    America needs a Robin Hood!!!

  • Kenneth Davis

    Paul Ryan does not have a clue about what harsh, unremitting poverty does to a persons emotional and mental health, it grinds down one’s soul until they can see no worth or dignity in themselves or their lives. Poverty robs a worthwhile person of opportunities that many such as Mr. Ryan take for granted.There is no dignity in working if that work will not provide the necessities of life. Even in slavery the slaves were accorded food, shelter, warmth and visits to the vet when ill. Why does Mr. Ryan feel that the working poor do not even deserve those basic necessities in exchange for their labor? As per his professed Christianity not only does Christ espouse helping the poor but he also clearly states “The workman is worthy of his hire” So why does someone who professes Christianity feel that a workman is not worthy of a hire that provides the basic necessities of life?

  • Jim Frelich

    I realize the president’s attempts to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 is merely the most he feels he can push the envelope past the Republicans. The minimum wage should, by all that is necessary to have a chance at making a living without government assistance, be $15.00 per hour. It is a little over $16.00 per hour in Australia. I’ve noticed since Reagan came to the presidency in ’81, and then the advent of Fox Network, there has been an unbelievable decline in patriotic Americanism. Never have I ever witnessed such selfishness in others toward their fellow countrymen. Mark my words….the late 18th century French Revolution where the ultra rich were rounded up eased of the burden of having to tote their riches could happen. People will be pushed only so far. The Rodney King riots in L.A. in ’92 is a prime example, and not too long ago neither. I suspect the “Occupy Movement”, could very well translate to more than non-violence. Its shameful in what America has become. Capitalism is the best economic system. Football is a great game. Without regulative government in both, they both cease to be workable.

  • John

    Hard jobs ARE dignified. You should feel pride in the fact that you work hard no matter what the dollar amount it. I make 8 dollars an hour in a job that should be paying me 12 but i come home everyday proud that I worked hard and was a good example to my coworkers and customers.

  • Frank Wild

    Wait wait wait. Before we go any further, how is paying people $15 a “handout”?

  • JohnT

    You funny.

  • JohnT

    Ryan speaks for his masters, not the people. He is just feathering his bed at the expense of honesty and commitment to the job he was elected to perform.

    He represents the financial aristocracy, not the masses.

  • Anonymous

    No dignity?

    Bite me.

    That first job I had, working retail & tech support at a boutique (read:no customers) electronics store, was something I was lucky, and PROUD to have at the time. How many store owners are going to entrust their entire operation to a 15-year-old kid? If I were paid a wage that was based on the store’s pathetic sales, however, they couldn’t have even afforded to pay me the $3.35 they did.

  • Anonymous

    How may more people would you like to see jobless, so that you can pay those who remain $16/hr?

  • Thaddeus Kozubal

    It is apparent that Paul Ryan has not stopped bed-wetting. What’s worse is that he hasn’t grown out of Pampers yet. What to do with someone who is in-between? Send him to the Koch Brothers school of bed-wetters. Why would any reasonable person in Wisconsin vote for this thing? Oh. Paid for by Citizens United.

  • Thaddeus Kozubal

    I would be ashamed to take a congressional salary and NOT do a decent day’s work in all that time. Paul Ryan, what did your parents’ teach you?

  • Anonymous

    In my life, I found working for minimum wage (and even less sometimes) was far more fulfilling than being idle. Of course, I had aspirations of being more than a burger flipper my entire life. Don’t get me wrong, I flipped many a burger, but as a way to learn how to hold a job, not as a forever profession.

    Moyers, are you saying it would have more dignified if I had just sat around on the dole that entire time?

    You are compensated with more than a paycheck when you are productive. I don’t expect a journalist to understand that.

  • Anonymous

    When you force a company to pay someone X amount of dollars, that is a handout. What part of that don’t you understand?

  • Anonymous

    You probably never worked as hard in your profession as you did studying for it either. Minimum wage jobs are generally the same thing as education. You get those jobs because you have no skill to attain anything higher. The job teaches you skills to command you a better wage. So in essence, a minimum wage job is a person who pays for your education and gives you some spending money. How about saying thanks instead?

  • Anonymous

    The minimum wage punishes the poor. Why do you hate the poor?

  • Solana

    John, how are you able to afford that home you go to after your shift if you are paid $8 an hour???

  • Wildfawn

    Bravo, Mr. Davis. These guys are trying to explain why it’s morally right that the companies should rake in huge profits while paying their people less than a slave would cost them.

  • Wildfawn

    Like the guy in CNN’s The Most Unequal place in America, who was the son of a doctor and had family loans to take over a family business, and the family then forgave part of the loans. He insisted he had pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. Also, refusing to pay people who do the jobs that generally get paid little enough to survive on is saying that those jobs are not necessary to our society. But they are. Where would all of us be if there were no janitors, no waitresses, no cooks and dishwashers, no garbage collectors?

  • Wildfawn

    Yeah, and the gravy train has now been hijacked by those who pull in huge dollars in corporate welfare, or pull huge salaries from the companies benefiting from corporate welfare. I don’t know the numbers, maybe no one does, but I’d like to see an estimate of how much welfare is handed out to poor people every year vs. how much is given away in corporate welfare. I bet it would surprise us all.

  • Kenneth Davis

    It has a Robin Hood but he’s working in reverse he has the rob from and give to part right he just needs some clarification as to which is supposed to be the robbed and which should be the receiver.

  • Kenneth Davis

    not to mention receiving more than a trillion a year in government handouts themselves, HMMMM isn’t that just about the deficit?

  • Kenneth Davis

    And why it’s morally right for them to continue receiving a trillion plus a year in government handouts while we have homeless starving people here, some right around the corner from the building they hold sessions in.

  • Kenneth Davis

    I’m afraid that minimum wage went further during the times you worked for minimum wage or less. It didn’t cost four hours labor for a jar of peanut butter, three loaves of bread and a box of oatmeal. There is a dignity in and a need to be productive I agree with that statement, where I disagree is that one should continue to participate in being exploited out of greed which is the situation with minimum wage jobs now. There is a problem when one works full time and is unable to house and feed themselves from their income. When lawmakers and employers play on a persons need to be productive as an excuse to not allow minimum wage to keep pace with inflation there’s a severe problem. Minimum wage provides less of the basic necessities of life now than at any time in it’s entire history. The law was instituted in the first place to stop employers from exploiting labor by paying drastically below the scale of the economy.

  • Kenneth Davis

    Without the minimum wage there are two many employers that would be paying their people a dollar an hour and charging prices requiring 10 dollars an hour to live. I’ve worked for too many employers of that ilk to ascribe to the theory that there is any worker not worth the minimum necessary to survive. As far as the minimum wage punishing the poor the poor would be punished much more without a minimum wage as big business and corporations have no conscience and are incapable of putting themselves in their workers shoes. During the time I was an employer I would never have considered hiring someone to even sweep floors at less than 25% to 50% over minimum wage even though it meant a smaller margin but then I have something notably lacking in business today, a conscience.

  • Kenneth Davis

    note typo two instead of too

  • Kenneth Davis

    I support the concept but am a bit more generous I think the highest pay for an elected official should be 10x the minimum wage with commensurate reductions based on responsibility of the position which would place the house and senate at 6x minimum wage. Their medical should be the same as that provided by Medicare their retirement should be the same percentage of their income as Social security pays and should not be available below age 65 with the same limitations and constraints as social security.
    Alas since they vote for their own salary and benefits will never see this happen.

  • Kenneth Davis

    Or a congressman I’ve worked my entire life there are times that I’ve worked for minimum wage because it’s the best I could find. at those times an economy size jar of peanut butter, three loaves of bread and a large box of oatmeal did NOT cost 30 dollars as it does now, rents were not 400 to 1500 a month and a basic electric bill with electric heat was not several hundred dollars a month in the winter. The dignity of work should never be used to justify paying your employees less than would be required to support a slave that you own as would be implied by Mr. Ryan’s statements about the poor.

  • Anonymous

    Why is it that dogmatic leftists are ALWAYS so arithmetically challenged?

    They don’t understand the basic math surround energy production. And, in this case, they can’t seem to properly compare the cost of goods with the economic return on labor.

    Kenneth’s case of “a jar of peanut butter, three loaves of bread, and a box of oatmeal” costs (respectively) $3.99 + 3 x $2.99 + $4.49. That’s $17.45, or less than 2.5 hours of labor. (And those are my local, high-cost-of-living, non-discounted SF prices.)

    But what’s being off by 37.5%, when your loony agenda needs to be flogged, facts be damned?

  • Anonymous

    Get a couple roommates, and some experience. And stop shopping at boutique grocers.

    Minimum wage is not for long-term independent living. It’s for first jobs, kids in summer jobs, college students, and role that don’t require enough skill to be worth anything more (lest they be replaced by automation).

  • Anonymous

    Try the “edit” button.

  • Anonymous

    That’s right …. we should always legislate mandates for force others to conform to YOUR sense of morality.

    You wouldn’t accept it for religious-themed “morality”, why are you so willing to embrace it here?

  • Kenneth Davis

    I disagree, if that’s you’re of that opinion you need to read the arguments of the lawmakers who instituted the minimum wage laws in the first place. Second when a major chain supermarket becomes considered a “Boutique” grocery store then we pretty much are economically finished. Point the third I have experience and job skills in two professions neither of which are hiring but are instead contracting, I also have two advanced degrees and myriad certifications. When did you get the idea that anyone who works deserves to be homeless and starve? I suggest you learn a bit of empathy and compassion as apparently you have none.

  • Kenneth Davis

    First you didn’t price economy sizes in your attempt to debunk my statement I buy economy sizes because they are more cost effective. Economy size 4 lb. peanut butter 11.99 ( 12.99 at Walmart) up 25% from last week and 160% from the last time the minimum wage was increased, Oatmeal larger size 6.98. 3 loaves of bread 2.99. Cost 27.64. Hour at minimum wage 7.25 less 20% in withholdings (8% social security 2% Medicare 10% federal and state income tax.) = 5.80 cost in man hours to buy the products listed at minimum wage = more than 4.5. I do not make minimum wage and haven’t in decades I would not be able to survive on it and the bottom line is neither could you. The only loony agenda being espoused here is one wherein people who resent paying people in the first place are fighting to ensure their margin which has increased over the last 10 years and do not wish to pay their people commensurate with the price increases that have widened that margin. In short conscienceless short term greed rules the day regardless of the fact that this insane desire not to pay a fair wage is what has destroyed the economy. No buying power = reduced sales.

  • Kenneth Davis

    probably because the religious agenda demonstrates an ignorance of the religion the representative is using as justification for his defense of exploitive greed.

  • Kenneth Davis

    And I’ve never had to work as hard in my profession as I had to when working at minimum wage nor experienced as much disregard and exploitation at the hands of my employers.

  • Kenneth Davis

    The sad thing is that a legislative agenda has to be pushed in order to force individuals to treat their fellow human beings decently. A religious theme should demonstrate a basic knowledge of that religion and Mr. Ryan’s application of it does not.

  • Anonymous

    That has got to be the stupidest comment I’ve read this month.

  • Anonymous

    You are not only a terrible shopper (try TJs for that peanut butter, and those loaves can be found at SW for $1.99), an incompetent tax accountant (“withholdings” are not taxes, and would be refunded in their entirety at that income level anyway; and FICA is not that high), but a pretend economist who doesn’t understand the first thing about how labor markets work.

    Either that, or you are shill for a company that makes labor automation equipment.

  • Anonymous

    The first thing I know, with my three degrees, is that you don’t accomplish “empathy” and “compassion” through legislation. The empirical results have almost universally been counter to the expectations, no matter how “well-meaning”.

  • Kenneth Davis

    With my mere two advanced degrees I understand and have observed that when individuals demonstrate a lack of empathy or compassion there is no learning it. The issue unfortunately needs to be forced when it affects society in a negative manner as it has been with the static to declining salaries within the middle and lower classes coupled with record breaking profits for many of the large corporations. In point of fact there are two disorders that share that lack as primary symptoms. The first and milder disorder is Borderline Personality disorder which is characterized by a lack of empathy or consideration of consequences when pursuing ones own desires. A person with borderline personality disorder will lie and manipulate to get their gratification, could care less who is hurt in the process and is often acting from a distorted world view and dysfunctional thinking. The second and more severe is Antisocial Personality Disorder which is characterized by all of the above plus a need for instant gratification with no consideration of consequences either to others or themselves. Whereas a person with Borderline Personality disorder finds it difficult to bond deeply individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder are unable to bond period. empathy and compassion are alien to their nature and they view everything as disposable instruments to personal gratification. By my personal observation there are three areas that are especially appealing to individuals with both disorders those being crime, politics and corporate business. Never has this observation been so obviously demonstrated as within the last 12 years by our government and large corporations. You personally live in a city where there are people working two jobs that are homeless and unable to afford housing but instead sleep on and ride the bus all night to stay warm.

  • Anonymous

    I bet it made you pretty determined to better yourself and actually get a profession didn’t it? Wow, how cruel!

  • Anonymous

    “You personally live in a city where there are people working two jobs that are homeless and unable to afford housing but instead sleep on and ride the bus all night to stay warm.”

    Among other things, it is clear you know nothing of our local “homeless” population. Or of our transit system.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for an entirely incoherent reply.

  • Kenneth Davis

    This was material by an investigative reporter and was published approximately 4 years ago I forget the publication offhand but I remember it as being a mainstream and reputable magazine. I’m afraid my visits to San Francisco were limited in duration and the only transit I personally saw were the trolleys on Diamond Drive

  • Anonymous

    So limited, that you remember a non-existent place (“Diamond Drive”), and trolleys that ran there (Trolleys ONLY run on Market, Embarcadero, and Jefferson. Cable cars ONLY run on Powell, Mason, Jackson, Washington, Hyde, and California.)

  • Anonymous

    If their labor isn’t worth that much, then it’s a handout. Just like the EITC.

  • Kenneth Davis

    Whatever tweaks your tutu