On Thursday, fast food and retail workers are planning a mass walkout in eight cities across the U.S. While the effects will most likely be local, the event brings up how important low-wage workers are to the economy. Although we might not usually think about it, many vital day-to-day activities are done by workers who barely make enough to live on.
Federal guidelines usually define those making around $11 an hour or less as living in poverty, but even these figures are often criticized for underestimating the number of poor employees. Regardless, it is worth imagining what a day without these workers would look like.
Of course whenever someone mentions low pay, people are quick to put the blame on the market. This is true to an extent but often it is not just the "market" that decides who gets paid what. As studies have shown, increasing the price of fast food by just 21 cents can double employees' incomes and very mild price increases for retailers can substantially increase pay, meaning the problem isn't so much the "market" but rather employers trying to keep wages low.
Now without further ado, here is what a day without low-wage workers would look like (based on the median pay from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Cooks, servers, dishwashers, and so on are on average some of the lowest-paid jobs in the United States with most making barely above minimum wage. It is also part of the reason why most of the people walking out during Thursday's strikes are fast-food workers. They are also not mostly teenagers, according to the Economic Policy Institute — 80% are over the age of 20.
How could it be possible that there would be no major events? Most people running events, whom the BLS refers to as "Ushers, Lobby Attendants, and Ticket Takers" as well as "Amusement and Recreation Attendants," barely make above minimum wage. Any major events, or just going to the movies, would have to wait.
Cashiers and retail salespeople are usually better paid then minimum wage, but often their jobs still don't put them above the poverty line. This means no shopping for the day.
Since not much would be happening on this day, it fits that there would not be taxi drivers to get people around. In recent years many cabbies, especially in New York City, have unionized to improve their wages.
Most bartenders make about as much as cashiers, which is to say, not a lot. Any alcohol on this day would have to be bought in a liquor store — provided it's not one that pays its cashiers minimum wage.
Last but certainly not at all least, median pay for ambulance drivers and attendants is just barely within the (underestimated) benchmark for poverty. It is another stunning example of how important many low-paid workers are, not just for the economy but for people's daily lives.