Back in 1994, at my first post-collegiate job, I earned a whopping $4.50 an hour. This was a whole quarter above the minimum wage so you could basically say I was living the high life.
I was an “online server” in a coffee house back when online meant actually being on a line and handling a variety of insane customers–kinda of like the Internet with less anonymity.
I fondly remember “scone man.” He would hand me two heavily-stained coffee mugs that likely never touched soap and spent 10 minutes selecting the best scone. One day, he gave me the honor of selecting the scone for him. I felt I had reached the pinnacle of my career. As I rang him up, he took the scone out of the bag, inspected it, placed it back inside the bag, swung the bag around his head and slammed it three times against the counter.
“Yeah, nice and soft,” he said and left.
Nearly 20 years later, the minimum wage is a whole $3 more, and many minimum wage workers are protesting that is not nearly enough to live on.
While a minium wage annual income is a couple of thousands below the poverty line, low-income workers are missing one crucial point:
We have way more choices on TV.
Back in 1968 when the minimum wage was at its peak and would have been the equivalent of $10.60 in today’s dollars, TV was kind of lame.
There was only a couple of channels. Nothing was 24 hours. News was actually news.
While low-income workers might not earn enough to have three decent daily meals, they can watch a buttload of cooking shows that almost makes you feel like you’ve eaten. There’s Top Chef and the 4,000 other cooking shows that want to be Top Chef.
I wish I could take credit for this brilliant insight, but the credit is all due to Virginia Postrel, a writer and supposed human, who wrote a compelling piece for Bloomberg.com titled “Who Needs a Raise When You Have TV?”
I mean just the other day, I was thinking my 14-year-old car with its 170,000 miles might not last another year and could I really afford a car payment and then I saw a clip of Miley Cyrus twerking on a three-day-old burrito and I thought….well, I forgot.
Because TV is awesome.
Postrel acknowledges that wages have stagnated over the last four decades, but for fuck’s sake poor people, you’ve got Duck Dynasty (slight paraprase). You don’t have to worry about how you’ve been left behind by the Kardashians because you can keep up with them on DVR.
Postrel reports we watch way more television now because what the fuck else are you going to do as you kill time between your first and second job? Or maybe you have the “ample leisure time” to watch hours of Fox News reports insisting a minimum wage increase will break the bank because your hours have been cut just before the holiday season or you were just laid off.
So buck up, poor person. Turn on that TV to that yuletide log burning in the fireplace so you aren’t reminded that you haven’t paid your heating bill and revel in the abundance.