Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Ladders to opportunity: Sue

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 3.33.28 PM“You make $15 ten years ago, you were making really really good money. You make $15 an hour now, and you’re scraping.”

Ask Sue about her job history and she’ll tell you she has worked almost every job in the food industry. She’s been a bartender and a server; she’s cooked food, washed dishes, and delivered coffee to mobile espresso trucks. You name it; she’s done it.

During her lifetime, Sue has seen the landscape of the food industry change. Small businesses have slowly lost ground as corporate businesses have gained a stronger presence in the economy. “When I originally got into [the food industry] 30 years ago, it was almost all small family businesses. You can find very few family owned restaurants in Seattle now. Most of it is corporate and there are very few family owned, mom and pop restaurants or any individually owned restaurants.”

The shift towards corporate business hasn’t been positive for workers, Sue says. It has gotten harder and harder for workers to find a job with decent pay and benefits, and sufficient hours to make ends meet. “Most of it’s chain food now; it’s very hard to get ahead, to become a district manager or operations manager, or any of the higher ones. Even if they hire from within, you’re kind of stuck more often than not. You may get your quarter raise, but you’re not advancing into anything.”

“In corporate, they cut your hours, they don’t let you work full time, whereas in most family businesses, you don’t see that. You can work 50-60 hours/ week if you want. Corporate doesn’t want to pay benefits, so they keep you at 25-35 hours per week.”

Finding a job that pays a living wage has become more and more difficult. Sue grew up in a middle class family, but working the same job today doesn’t pay like it used to. “I think we grew up at that time to be what we considered very much middle class. Now, it would definitely be lower class.”

Low-wage workers just aren’t seeing any share of the enormous profits of corporate business – and the pay standards have worsened. “You make $15 ten years ago, you were making really really good money. You make $15 an hour now, and you’re scraping. It’s just kind of unfair to those of us who have worked our way up from a minimum wage. And it just doesn’t feel good when you’re making $14 an hour and you broke your tail to get there.”

The selfish few at the top have turned jobs that used to pay a living wage into poverty-wage jobs, so that irresponsible corporations can make record profits. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Legislating a livable wage and reforming Washington State’s tax system so everyone is paying their fair share would go a long way towards interrupting America’s growing income inequality. We can and should demand more. Let’s build a shared prosperity for all.

For more about economic mobility, including other Ladders to Opportunity stories, please visit this page.

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