What is your life worth? Would you be ok with sacrificing it for a minimum wage job? Or maybe a job that pays above minimum wage, but still just barely enough to survive? Would you join the military for minimum wage? Be a police officer? A coal miner? An oil rig operator?
Probably not. Those jobs are dangerous. You go to work and risk your life. Employers know that, so they offer high pay and benefits. They need to make risking your life worthwhile.
But we’re at a point in our society where we’re asking minimum wage workers to risk not only their own lives, but the lives of their family members as well. And for what? Paltry pay? The “economy”?
What’s Their Life Worth?
And the worst part is – we aren’t asking. Not really. What choice do they have? They can go to their menial low wage job or they can quit. But if they quit, they no longer have the opportunity to collect unemployment. There aren’t enough remote jobs to go around. There is no help from the government. Go to work and risk death, or stay home and risk destitution.
Those are the options.
We as society have made a decision. These people’s lives aren’t worth anything. We’re willing to sacrifice not only them, but their families, in order to cling to an economic system that clearly doesn’t work for everyone.
This is apparent in the protests that are happening all around the country. People aren’t protesting to go back to work because they lost their jobs. People are protesting to force their indentured servants to go back to work because they have to give up some creature comforts that they’ve been used to.
Protesting Due to A Lost Job
I’m sure some are protesting because they lost their job and desperately need work (though most of the stats on protesters show that’s not the case). But let’s take a step back and examine how heartbreaking that is.
People have been beaten down so hard by our system that they don’t think their life is worth more than minimum wage. They don’t believe they have any value as humans outside of the labor they provide to whatever company- to make profits for shareholders. Why is that? Why haven’t we grown to a point where humanity has value in and of itself?
Choices Choices Choices
I know what my friends with differing views on the matter are going to say. It was their own choices that led them to where they are. They should’ve gotten a better job when they had the chance, and they should have saved money so that they could stay home if they wanted.
But it’s super easy to pretend that people had all these options and choices available to them. It’s the just world fallacy at work. Pretending that most of the people who work these jobs are doing so only because of their own choices and not because of the blatant societal injustices present in our society only helps to perpetuate the cycle. It completely discounts the fact that we have a very real poverty trap in the United States, that wages are stagnant, that healthcare is unattainable for many, that education is prohibitively expensive, and that people are needlessly suffering over these things.
But fine – let’s visit that just world for a second and assume that you’re right. Every single person stuck working a low wage job with no savings is in the position they are in due to their own choices alone. Does that really matter? Does someone deserve to die because they made the poor choice to spend their money on luxuries like enjoying life a little? Or because they didn’t follow the life script and go to college? Do their parents, grandparents, and at-risk children deserve to die?
The answer is no. I can’t believe I have to say this, but people don’t actually deserve to die because they made some poor life choices.
What Are the Other Options?
I get it -the economy is in shambles. Businesses are closing down, and life as we know it has changed. I have hope, deep down in my soul, that people are protesting because they’re terrified that the system we’ve trusted for so many years is about to collapse, and not because they don’t care about the lives of others. Maybe they do see it as a type of war – with the front-line soldiers being retail workers and servers, hair stylists and uber drivers. Their lives are at risk, but that’s the cost ensuring our entire system doesn’t fail. Even more lives will be lost if it does, and our freedoms along with them.
But I’m here to tell you that there are other options. Our current system obviously has many flaws, and maybe this is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for to fix those flaws.
How Do We Show What Their Life’s Worth?
I’m not even going to pretend to have all the answers. But I do have some ideas – which I’ve shared with you all incessantly (hey, maybe my constant writing about it will convince someone!).
Instituting a UBI would give people options. They wouldn’t feel pressured to risk their lives for minimum wage. And it would go a long way in showing that their life is worth more than minimum wage. A UBI would show people that their life is worth more than some menial minimum wage job.
We could also untie healthcare from employment and implement some type of healthcare program for all Americans. With all the debate around this topic, I have a ton of hope that it will happen in the near future. It’s ridiculous that it’s taken so long, but I’ll take what I can get.
We should also find a way to make higher education more affordable. Loans aren’t the answer. It shouldn’t cost 30K to switch careers in midlife. Young adults shouldn’t be starting their lives saddled with debt. A good career and a higher education shouldn’t be reserved for the wealthy.
Society is Changing
This post may have gotten a bit rambly. Sorry for that. I guess the major thing I’m trying to say is that society is changing, and that’s not a bad thing. Yes – it’s new and its scary, but if we take steps now to fix these major problems, we have the opportunity to value life in ways we didn’t before. We have the opportunity to rise above these challenges, and prove that life has worth.
I think that would be a beautiful thing, don’t you?
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.