The Rich Get Richer And The Poor Help The Rich Get Richer, Or: What Life Is Like In America

I’ll leave it to you, smart reader, to absorb all the information contained in the following, from an article on

pay gap between ceo and worker

A sample from the article:

The pay gap separating fast-food workers from their chief executive officers is growing at each of those companies. The disparity has doubled at McDonald’s Corp. in the last 10 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At the same time, the company helped pay for lobbying against minimum-wage increases and sought to quash the kind of unionization efforts that erupted recently on the streets of Chicago and New York.


Shareholders, not employees, have reaped the rewards. McDonald’s, for example, spent $6 billion on share repurchases and dividends last year, the equivalent of $14,286 per restaurant worker employed by the company. At the same time, restaurant companies have formed an industrywide effort to freeze the minimum wage, whose purchasing power is 20 percent less than in 1968, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank that advocates for low- and middle-income workers.


Fast-food workers trailed other low-wage occupations, with median earnings in 2009 to 2011 at $18,564, compared with $19,099 for child care and $20,101 for cashiers, according to federal data. The U.S. average for the same years was $42,110. Fast-food employment jumped 7.3 percent in that period compared with the previous three years; the overall U.S. average dropped 1.3 percent. From February 2010 to February 2012, the number of restaurant jobs grew more than twice as fast as the average.


McDonald’s is part of a larger trend of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, according to data from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. The pay gap between the average S&P 500 CEO and the average U.S. worker, which was 42 times in 1980, widened to 380 times in 2011 from 325 times in 2010, the umbrella group of 56 unions said.

Finally (but you should read the entire article), there is the idea that taxpayers are subsidizing this unconscionable state of affairs:

 A growing proportion of fast-food employees get federal assistance to buy food, according to census data compiled by the University of Minnesota Population Center. The proportion of fast-food workers who receive food stamps rose to 26.9 percent in 2010, compared with 15 percent of all Americans, the data show.

Hi! Welcome to McDonald’s! May I take your order?

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  1. Indeed, this is a sizable chunk of the economic demographic showing where the country is headed, and it doesn’t take much imagination, seems to me, to guess what happens when the average burger flipper gets sick or hurt. Let’s see, hmm, I can either pay my $10,000 medical bill myself by continuing to work standing on my feet in a hot, noisy, boring and stressful environment 8 hours a day, or, I can go on disability, collect $1,000 a month, work secretly off the books at odd jobs, and get Medicaid. What should I do? I think my back just went out.


    • Jim,

      Both of us, I think, see the same future for the country, if we don’t figure out a way to stop it. That’s for another day, though. With your indulgence, I want to tackle something else you said, which sort of bothers me.

      Behind your logic here (and as I have read from you and others elsewhere) seems to me to be an unwarranted assumption that hard-working folks (most folks in my experience) will resort to the low road (faking a disability or at least exaggerating one) as a way of confronting the realities in the world.

      As one of your biggest admirers, I would ask you to reconsider that assumption.

      In my extended family are people who are on SS disability and have been for a good part of their lives. They don’t live very well on that small amount of money from the government and I would guarantee you that if they had the same combination of genetics and upbringing as I (or presumably, you) had, they would not settle for even a$1,000 check each month (many live on less). I have seen how they live (poverty of the mind is what I have in mind here) and it ain’t pretty.

      And even if there were people who, even for completely rational reasons, played the system and got disability checks they don’t really deserve, I don’t find that a problem to worry about in comparison with the billions upon billions that folks in the corporate and moneyed-class are “earning” by manipulating the tax code and other federal and state laws to their advantage.

      With all that big-time corruption going on, I don’t worry too much about what I consider to be an unfortunate person in the inner city of Chicago or the woods of Pineville who “chooses” to go through life “disabled” rather than be a productive member of society. If I worry about anything, it is how that unfortunate person became that way and what, if anything, we, as a society, can do about that.

      Although I can’t get to it right now, I watched a segment Chris Hayes did on this issue recently (here is a link to MediaMatters on it) and I would ask that anyone interested in this subject–and how it has been misreported and misunderstood–watch that segment.

      Finally, all of us, me included, resent the idea that there are folks out there who are sponging off the rest of us when they are perfectly able to work. That pisses me off when I see it just like it would anyone. But until the Romneys of the world are paying adequate taxes on all their income and until there is a structural change in our society that allows for more equitable distribution of our nation’s vast wealth, I refuse to lose sleep over it (I’m not saying you are, by the way).

      As I reread this, Jim, it may come across as “preachy” and I don’t intend it to be so, my friend. I suppose I am a little sensitive to what I have always perceived as a right-wing effort (I used to be an active part of that effort) to put the focus on welfare queens and disability cheats and the like, when it comes to diagnosing our cultural problems.



      • Duane,

        My pessimism on the economic trajectory of the country was indeed sparked by the NPR report, “Unfit for Work” highlighted in in the clip you linked. I was glad you found that and then disappointed that it was unconvincing. The ex-Social Security commissioner’s explanation of why the report should be discounted amounts to saying that the disability rules haven’t changed, while also pointing, correctly, to the danger of shorting those in true need. I’m sure that’s true, but a lot else has changed. Productivity has increased hugely. The economy has transitioned to global dimensions and the country has become inured to (historically) very cheap goods. Big Agriculture, heavily subsidized by government, has also become very efficient and mechanized, making food cheap. At the same time, the explosion of the internet has spawned an unprecedented sea of amusements, entertainment and distractions, as in the social media. Culturally, the world is in uncharted waters and my fears seem, oddly, to be similar to those that Aldous Huxley expressed in <a href=""his Brave New World of 1931. This critique of it, comparing it to Orwell’s “1984”, seems to apply (emphasis mine):

        What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

        I share your concerns, Duane. I too disparage the exploding wealth gap – it amounts to a new Gilded Age of robber barons. But we seem to be at the mercy of the historic conundrum between socialist policies and raw capitalism and I don’t see any easy way out. The cost of healthcare is out of control and there is no hope that the average person can cope with it when the inevitable problems come, unless we can get it under government control. And I can’t see that happening. Meanwhile, as Anson points out with his example of happy young ski bums in Vail, ambition and hard work seem to be commodities in decline.

        I am not advocating that we abandon the social net my friend, I’m just expressing concern that the demographic trends I see are terribly alarming and that I don’t know what can be done about them. I look around and I see the signs, an explosion of handicapped parking slots, multiple motorized shopping scooters occupied at Walmart by people whose principle handicap appears to be obesity. I see manual labor jobs going begging and hear about crops rotting in the fields for lack of workers. The federal disability rolls are, according to the report, accelerating and are projected to double every 15 years, or sooner if the acceleration continues. That is unsustainable. The danger as I see it, as in healthcare, is not that we won’t find a way to pay for it but that we won’t find a way to contain the costs. You rightly identify the wealthy as a currently adequate source of funding for society’s purposes, but that seems to me only a short-term remedy. Alas.


        • Jim,

          I find this topic fascinating, particularly the connection to the Orwell-Huxley fear alternatives.

          At this point I’m just not sure that I can agree with you, at least based on the data you present here or that I have read, that “ambition and hard work” are “commodities in decline.” I realize you said that they “seem” to be in decline, but clearly from what you wrote, you are convinced they are. I need more evidence, and I confess that it has been many years since I studied this issue in any depth, so at this time I have to remain an agnostic.

          I will, though, emphatically disagree with you (something I rarely do and do so now with fear and trembling) about this:

          But we seem to be at the mercy of the historic conundrum between socialist policies and raw capitalism and I don’t see any easy way out.

          I think, generally speaking, voters have recognized the danger of both extremes and have, by their voting preferences, opted for some combination. What we are at the mercy of, in my opinion, is our political system, which is flawed for historic reasons and because at present it allows for the outsize influence of the moneyed class (because of our campaign finance laws or lack thereof), who keep thwarting the fairly clear will of the majority. (Using, for instance, clever demagoguery on taxes, which are too low for even the middle class, not just for wealthy people, and those low taxes are a large part of our current and future problems.)

          That, my friend, is why we have not yet embraced a health care system, modeled after Medicare, in which the government would control costs and could very quickly get us on the road to dealing with our long-term deficits.

          My point would be, whether or not ambition and hard work are demonstrably in decline, our biggest problem is not a swelling of the disability rolls or welfare dependency or the like, but the way our political system operates—controlled by the wealthy and powerful—which in the long run, and ironically, makes dependency on the government something of a rational choice.

          But even given that, it continues to amaze me how much ambition and hard work remains in our country and how little attention is paid to the plight of those who do that hard work and keep making the country run.




          • Good points all, my friend. I do not want to leave you or anyone else with the impression that I favor an economic state where either “socialist policies” or “raw capitalism” should prevail one over the other. Clearly in a civilized society the optimum is to be found in some mix, just as representative democracy is superior to pure democracy. To clarify my statement, which needs it, I would say that the danger is that too many, particularly on the right, do want raw capitalism to prevail. And I do agree that hard work is not dead, just lamenting a trend I think I see. 🙂


  2. ansonburlingame

     /  April 12, 2013

    I think we can all agree that anyone that earns only some $18,000 a year in wages is a burden for themselves and society. So why work for such wages becomes the question, does it not?

    Because it is the only job available you say? Maybe that is correct IF, the employee only has certain skills to bring to any workforce, his or her qualifications you might say.

    I wonder what a “poll” might show for all the fast food employees in America in terms of “qualifications” for other jobs? How many actually earned a HS dipolma? How many tested at least as “proficient”? How many have juvenile or adult criminal records or even some period of incarceration? The list could go on for sure.

    Now compare if you will the wages of a fast food worker and an E-1,2 or 3, the “entry level” ranks and pay scales for all military enlisted services. My guess is they are comparable in annual wages to such “entry level” workers in civilian society. The point of course is that such entry level wages are not DESIGNED to provide a “normal lifestyle” for any worker. They do however provide “some” money to “get in the door” and then advance in a given area of work, military service, fast food industry, etc.

    Finally, add up all the government entitilements for someone only making $18,000 per year. My guess is that such benefits raise that single worker to somewhere above poverty line wages if they have the initiative to apply for such benefits and don’t just wait for them to come to them automatically. I know for sure that entry level enlisted personnel in the military qualify for food stamps if they try to “live on (or in) a civilian environment”. By that I mean perhaps a young man that enlists in the military, gets married, has a child, rents a home “just outside the base”, etc. while trying to gain a foothold in such service.

    As well Jim, an entry level wage earner in the fast food industry does NOT have to use EMTALA for HC. They are eligible for Medicaid at the wages indicated above and far higher wages for others, as well. No “Medicaid expansion” needed for those “kids” working in fast food jobs, at the entry level.

    Here is another anecdotal “job” that pays hardly “anything”. Go to a ski slope at say, Vail, CO. Check out the lift “workers”, employees in the fast food “botiques” on the slopes, etc. and then look at the cost of living in Vail. No way can a youngster doing “entry level work” at ski slope in any resort live on his or her own with such wages. THEY, along with slope owners assistanc, ban together and live in “dorms”, etc to pool their wages to have a collective way of surviving in such places and they sure don’t try to “make it a career” in such low level jobs, either. I haven’t skied for years now, but I sure knew some kids that loved working the slopes during the season and not starving or freezing to death in doing so.

    And of course if we “passed a law” making fast food worker wages a truly “living wage” well there goes a Big Mac price, right up to the level of a steak dinner at an “upscale” eatery, or a lift ticket that only the rich could afford.



  3. N.Michael Barrows

     /  April 12, 2013

    “That” would “have been” a “lot” easier “to read” had everything “not been” in “quotes.”


  4. writer89

     /  April 12, 2013

    It’s supposed to show sarcasm, indicating that things like “polls” and “entry-level work” and “passing a law” aren’t real things, just stuff that liberals make up to help create their fantasy world — one in which worker salaries are kept “low” in order to pad the “profits” of the “rich people.” As opposed to a world in which paying workers fair wages would result in Big Macs that cost as much as steak dinners. And what makes those steak dinners so expensive? It sure ain’t the huge salaries of the workers at the “upscale” restaurants! Wouldn’t it be fun to live in a right-wing fantasy world?


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  April 13, 2013

    It is not a fantasy world, it is the real world today. Poorly qualified people earn low wages. Such is not done to punish them for sure. Such wages are simply what they are worth in terms of contributions to the overall business. Try to run a business today and pay living wages to every employee. You won’t be in business very long as what you make to sell will be too expensive, at least is some businesses, like the “cheap” fast food industry. Simple economics dictates such and has done so for a very long time.

    Pay a living wage to MacDonald employees, all of them, and a Big Mac meal will go from $6.50 to $20 in a “flash”. Then you can take down the sign claiming “billions and billions sold” in the future.

    Many of you herein think Wal Mart should…….. Well when prices at Wal Mart go through the roof after they……., who, exactly will be hurt the most? For sure it will not be the “rich” folks as they never shop there in the first place.



    • Anson,

      You have exactly zero evidence that paying a living wage to fast-food workers would so dramatically increase the cost of, say, a Big Mac. I remember a certain national pizza chain owner bitching about ObamaCare because providing health insurance to his workers would increase the cost of his pizza by a whopping 10 or 14 cents. Wow. And if you follow this link you will find that even that was overestimating the cost.


  6. Jane Reaction

     /  April 14, 2013

    @Jim: Excellent precis on how it may go. Very well put by the critic. Thanks for including it

    I am afraid that the difference this time is that it is Orwell AND Huxley: the truth is concealed from us and the truth has been drowned in a sea of trivial sideshows.


    • You’re welcome, JR. That both Orwell and Huxley were so incisive and prescient so long ago is remarkable, is it not? I hope they are still included in curricula, but something tells me they probably aren’t. 😦


  7. Just finished Bruce Levine’s “The Fall of the House of Dixie” and the parallels of the entire country today, economically, to the pre and post civil war South are frightening. Seriously. The belief of the Southern planter / slave-holder class in their God-ordained entitlement to keep anyone and everyone else under their powerful thumbs is the same attitude of the Romney’s and Issa’s and Koch’s today: We live to serve their needs, their whims, their lusts, their greed. And they believe they have God’s permission to screw us over if we don’t bow down to them. The reason they can’t be reasoned with is they believe they are above reason. These bastards were (and are) so drunk with their own wealth and power they are not embarrassed in the slightest by the obscene funds they raise to elect nasty people who will preserve their dominion over the rest of us. They have no sense of a larger civilization — only themselves and their slaves. The current GOP is as arrogant and desperate as the planter class at the end of the Civil War. They are all in on this. This is their last chance.
    Enlightenment be damned. Generosity be hanged.


    • Thanks for that perspective, General. I don’t doubt the analogy at all, wealth breeds hubris. And dynasties of hubris.

      Mollie and I just saw Spielberg’s “Lincoln”, out at last on DVD. Brilliant! Should have won not just best actor, but best screenplay and picture in our opinion. If you haven’t seen it, please do. But I want to say this, that surely no thinking person, at least none with a heart, can see it and not be morally educated on the issue of slavery and on how it was the heart of Southern wealth. And Southern hubris.


      • A masterful movie, Jim. I saw it in the theater and felt almost from start to finish that I was there, sitting in on Lincoln’s deliberations and his agonizing personal life, as well as witnessing the events in the legislative chamber. That doesn’t happen to me very often.


    • Thanks, my friend. As you will soon notice, I used your comment in a post today. Good stuff and thanks for contributing.


  8. It does seem like dja vu all over again, as the saying goes. Same people, same motivations, but instead of slavery, they are defending the 21st century version of it, in which people of all races, creeds and colors are enslaved to a system that gives them very little chance of rising above their current status. There are exceptions — people who win the lottery, or cash in on a talent for sports or singing or computer programming — but those are few and far between. Just enough to keep everybody else salivating when the bell rings.


    • You are right.

      The meme that pursues the mind of every school kid, to wit, that if you just work hard enough and play by the rules you can make it in America, is a very powerful one. Unfortunately, some of the happy purveyors of that meme are the same moneyed folks who see to it that it is often false.



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