Home / General / The Lives of Fast Food Workers

The Lives of Fast Food Workers


Sasha Abramsky with a valuable look into the life of one fast food striker demanding a $15 an hour wage. You know what she wants that she can’t have? Fruit.

Roberts, who is now thirty-eight years old and working at a K.F.C. in Oakland, is slightly stout, with hair done up in braids. She is quick to smile, and she has a matter-of-fact attitude about her circumstances. Tacked to the wall above her stove is a Bob Marley poster with the quote “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Around mid-morning, after Thomas, now fifteen, has headed off to school, Roberts walks to the K.F.C. on Telegraph Avenue. She earns eight dollars an hour as a cashier, and she typically works five- or six-hour shifts.

“I pack orders, take orders. I clean, take out the garbage. I deal with belligerent people, disrespectful people, I deal with a lot of people who do drugs—so I’m basically a security guard, too,” she told me. During a ten-minute lunch break, she wolfs down free fried chicken. In the early evening she walks home to her apartment, where, when she has food in her small refrigerator, she prepares dinner.

I visited Roberts a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving, and she still had leftover turkey in an tinfoil baking tray. She usually cooks a lot of beans and ramen noodles. The night before, she said, she had sautéed some vegetables and made a sandwich.

Often, though, she can’t afford vegetables. She is paid little enough that she qualifies for a hundred and ninety-five dollars’ worth of food food stamps, but they run out after a couple of weeks, and by end of the month the fridge shelves are virtually bare, and Roberts starts skipping meals so that Thomas can eat more. “I’d love to eat fruit,” she told me. “Fruit is my favorite. Peaches. Nectarines. Cantaloupe. Bananas. I like Fuji apples. Can’t afford to eat it.”

Should any person in this country be denied apples and bananas, employed or unemployed? No and I don’t think I have to explain why.

Meanwhile, Yum, which is not only the stupidest name of any corporation in the history of the United States but which also owns KFC, has paid its CEO David Novak $81.5 million over the past five years.

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  • I agree with you completely. Poverty sucks and it is really a moral rather than an economic one. There should be a maximum wage to fund a higher minimum wage.

  • As a reactionary, you shouldn’t want an minimum wage, J. Otto, where’s the justice for the 1% and the job creators in such a proposal?

    • Well if US unions and other forms of worker organization from below were strong enough in the US then minimum wage laws wouldn’t be necessary. So yes it would be better not to have to have them. But, that isn’t the case in the US.

      • Reactionaries are against unions as well, J. Otto. Why are you betraying your principles in order to curry favor with the liberals here? Where’s your sympathy for the makers and job creators? Are there no food stamps? Are there no food banks so workers can get the fresh fruit they think they deserve?

        • Does your comment – and indeed have any of your comments to J. Otto ever had a point of any substance?

          Or are you just being a dick?

        • There’s a lot to say about J. Otto, but I’ve never gotten the sense that his unionism is anything less than sincere. He may be an anticommunist nationalist but he’s clearly not an American-style movement conservative or a libertarian.

          • He calls himself a reactionary, which is only true if your opposition is Stalinist. He also blames his views on Communism for his lack of employment in the United States, when it’s pretty clear that the lack of teaching experience when he was in graduate school is what did him in on the employment front.

  • I don’t suppose there’s any way to lay bear traps for the Nutrition Knowalls who will declare they regularly feed their family of 4 healthy meals for just $5 a day?

    Oh well.

    Should any person in this country be denied apples and bananas, employed or unemployed?

    I see about … 4 major layers of bullshit in her situation although there are all sorts of gradations:
    1. She can’t afford a balanced diet.
    2. She is working and still has to rely on public assistance just to survive, sort of. (See Point 1.)
    3. She and her child are at a much higher risk of developing health problems because of 1. In fact, those of you who’ve lived on this sort of food for a while know you just feel kind of off all of the damn time.
    4. Our Glibertarian Overloads would say she should just get a second job and her kid should work, if she wants fruit so much.

    And then there are her looxurious living conditions!

    …her apartment—a single room, perhaps a hundred and thirty square feet … The small bathroom, with a toilet and an old, cracked bathtub, is in the hallway outside Roberts’s apartment. She shares it with the building’s other occupants; one is a young waitress who works across the bay, in San Francisco; another is a lady who gets up early and comes home late—Roberts hardly ever sees her.

    For these accommodations, Roberts pays five hundred and forty dollars a month, which includes utilities.

    The reporter does the math for those who might want to pretend Roberts just needs to pull on her bootstraps a bit harder.

    • As a renter with even a middle-class salary like myself, what I’m always struck by is the huge up front costs just to get in the door and then the rather marginal gains after that which lead to significant improvements. It takes $540 for a total dump and it’s all she can afford. For 25% more, she would probably have a much nicer place. But of course not only can’t she afford it, just the $540 means she can’t buy an apple. Not to mention health care. It’s a crime.

      • She might even be able to afford a nicer place for about the same monthly rent, but she can’t get past the credit check or afford the security deposit.

        I’m sure you know it, but it bears repeating: Taking advantage of the poor is a vast, multi-billion dollar industry.

        I’m going to guess the owner of the place where she lives is well aware of the fact she can’t get a home anywhere else and so gouges the shit out of her and the other occupants.

        • MAJeff

          Exactly. Assume she wants to move into a $700 apt. That would mean she needs to save about $2k just to get in the front door.

      • Nobdy

        Don’t forget the poverty tax please:

        Since she is almost always late with her rent, she also has to pay a fifty-dollar late fee.

        If only she knew how to budget her money like I did when I was (relatively) poor and in law school. When I was short at the end of a month I borrowed from my mom to make sure I didn’t get hit with a late fee.

        The above is how Republicans actually and unironically think. (The story is true, but it is a story of privilege, not responsibility.)

        Anyway, poor taxes like late and overdraft fees are a huge part of the poverty story in America. She in fact pays $590 a month in rent but $50 of it is hidden. I have seen pro bono clients whose inability to keep up with all the bills means that they are constantly bleeding more and more into the abyss of corporate america thanks to late fees and paycheck loans and interest on balances on utility bills etc…

        “She should pay her bills on time.” People like her already skip prescriptions and MEALS in order to make ends not quite meet. How much blood is she expected to wring from the stone of her minimum wage job? For a Republican the answer is always “More.”

        To call them vampires would be unfair because even a vampire stops drinking when the victim’s dry.

        • I may be stretching the definition, but I consider $540 for this kind of housing (for lack of a better word) to be part of the poverty tax. She’s paying too much for what she’s getting because she’s poor. And a poor, African-American woman? Every greedy slimeball’s dream because they assume that even if she is smart enough to complain, no one will listen. (I admit I’m working on the assumption that her apartment wouldn’t pass inspection, but it is based on experience with greedy slimeball slumlords, so…)

          However, that $50 cut is absolutely part of why telling poor people they just need to learn how to manage their money (what fucking money?) are an unfunny joke.

          And of course, none of Republicans/Libertarians will admit that if they have their way: Social assistance sharply reduced or eliminated + Minimum wage stays the same (or drops) = This country’s economy would be completely fragged.

          And that’s before you look at costs of suddenly increasing our already too large population of homeless, malnourished people. (Even if they die under bridges per apparent GOP desire, those bodies won’t bury themselves!)

          But I’m sure they’d find a way to declare it means billionaires need another tax break.

        • Hogan

          When I was short at the end of a month I borrowed from my mom to make sure I didn’t get hit with a late fee.

          You could also have sold some of your stock, like the Romneys did in a very similar situation.

      • JoyfulA

        Those upfront costs are one of problems the homeless organization I support deals with. It advances the moving-in money for someone who’s saved up the rent. (And half the homeless we serve work, either in jobs or as day workers, which shocked me early on.)

      • ajp

        Housing costs are insane. I still have more than is reasonable bound up in my security deposit. I could really use that money.

      • DocAmazing

        Ah, but remember, rent control is always and everywhere a bad idea. Smart Economists told me so.

        • GoDeep

          There are many and much better ways to help the poor than rent control. Rent control is prolly the worst possible way to help them, as Paul Krugman once discussed here: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/07/opinion/reckonings-a-rent-affair.html

          Increase Sec 8 funding; increase the EITC; increase the Min Wage; increase public housing. Those are all better ways to help.

          • DocAmazing

            None of those put a damper on real estate speculation. Rents still rise madly with each of those.

            • GoDeep

              And artificially constricting supply to keep it from meeting demand isn’t going to help either.

              The problem is that coastal California is highly desirable & demand is sky high–making everything abt the cost of living sky high. So, yeah, those other things won’t stop that, but let’s remove constraints on supply & encourage more building.

              And the games ppl play to keep rent controlled apts. I had a SF friend who was like the 10th tenant in 3 yrs in a rent controlled apt. It went through like 15 different permutations. IIRC the original family wasn’t even represented among the tenants. As I see it rent control works like Prop 13. Its good for current tenants w/ good rates & bad for everyone else.

              • DocAmazing

                artificially constricting supply to keep it from meeting demand isn’t going to help either

                Pray tell, what does that have to do with rent control?

                let’s remove constraints on supply & encourage more building

                Once again, see “inelastic demand”. “Market rate” means “any inflated price a developer wants to charge”. Building more units in Oakland and SF did not stabilize prices, and will not do so. Allowing developers to build in greenbelts and to trash farmland hasn’t brought down housing prices, either.

                • Informant

                  Pray tell, what does that have to do with rent control?

                  Probably the well-demonstrated fact that rent control deters construction of new rental units?

                • Jordan

                  Right, but the thing has to be: by how much and to what extent?

                  I mean, I’m prepared to believe that raising the minimum wage by a lot does eliminate some jobs. But that is more than made up for by the fact that the vast majority of the jobs aren’t eliminated and the workers get lots more money, and we should have other lots of other jobs programs anyways.

                  Same for rent control. It probably does decrease the incentive to construct new rental units. But in markets where the ability to construct new rental units anyways is highly constricted, and as long as there is still a good return on investment for the capitalists funding all this: isn’t that worth it? It seems obvious the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no.

            • DAS

              Even after the so-called collapse of the housing bubble, real estate prices (with a few exceptions*), even adjusted for inflation, have increased greatly in the long term, pricing more and more people out of the housing market as well as keeping rents too damn high. The best thing government could have done with the real estate bubble collapse is (pardon me for sounding libertarian) to get out of the way and let the market collapse as deeply as possible to give real estate a reboot, so to speak.

              Of course, part of the problem is that, between retirement funds invested in real estate/mortgage backed securities and the main wealth of many in the middle class being their homes, a true real estate crash would have hurt a lot of people, especially those with underwater mortgages. Nu? What government should have done, rather than bailing out banks and keeping real estate prices from crashing, was to directly bailout holders of mortgage-backed securities, have a much more robust HARP/HAMP program for people with underwater mortgages (your principal on your loan should never be allowed to be greater than what your home is worth) and perhaps even directly compensate people for their home-values going down. We really needed a true real estate “reboot”, but it would have cost a lot of money, so society should have paid for it. Instead … well, we bailed out the banks. And what good did that do?

              *one of them being 1 bedroom co-op apartments in my neck of the woods as we learned when we tried to sell our apartment to finally move the family into a bigger space

    • Tristan

      I was thinking of asking the over/under on how long until someone pipes up to babble about how carrots cost less than potato chips

      • One of the ironies of this is she’s within a short drive of some of the richest, most diverse agriculture in the world, but where she lives it’s probably very difficult to get fresh produce at a reasonable price, if at all. Among the many problems this story highlights is (most likely) the problem of urban food deserts. For people who live in those areas, it’s not simply a matter of income, it’s also a matter of access and comparative price. What’s affordable and high-quality in, for instance, a supermarket in suburban Detroit, is more expensive and of lower quality in a neighborhood market in a poor area within the city of Detroit.

    • Anonymous

      The nutrition knowalls are the worst, because they don’t account for food deserts. A lot of high-poverty neighborhoods have no real grocery stores, so produce if it’s available is sold in bodegas where it’s usually shitty and overpriced ($1 for a red delicious wrapped in cellophane). Note that, next to getting a Starbucks, getting a grocery store is usually a tipping point event in gentrifying a neighborhood.

      It also supports a hobbyhorse mine: the vacuum created by removing home economics from school curricula. “Home Ec” at first blush brings jokes about Betty Crocker and ambrosia salad, but when it’s fine properly, people learn to budget and save, purchase nutritious food, and cook for themselves – all skills in clear decline for the underclass. When I worked on food policy, I noticed a lot of municipalities were offering cooking classes at community centers because adults literally didn’t know even the basics of cooking (note that food stamps prevent purchasing prepared food, so if you can’t cook you’re eating everything raw, or you’re eating junk food). The over class got rid of home ec because they have people clean and cook for them.

      • Sherm

        Thats a good point. I doubt that she can readily get bananas for 20 cents each like I can.

      • Karen

        My church has a ministry to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the local food bank. The food bank can’t always even take the fruit because they don’t have the proper facilities to store it; consequently, their clients can’t get fruit because the food bank can’t keep it. We have been planning to start a large community garden for several years, but we don’t have any way of distributing the food to clients. So, the problem continues.

      • Two things. First, had I scrolled down just one more comment I wouldn’t have made mine above, about food deserts, which you’re right to bring up.

        But on the issue of home-ec, I don’t think the “over class” had anything to do with the demise of home-ec (or shop). I think it was far more a function of ending gendered tracks in school (which was a good motive) and an emphasis on getting back to basics of education, scholastic achievement and college preparation. In fact, home education and shop were largely creations of the over class, because it was seen as a practical skill for poor and working class kids who weren’t intended to go to college. I agree that not having home education (and proper physical education) have negative effects, but their demise is actually more egalitarian, because the assumption is that everyone today should be prepared for college, whereas in the past even the progressive do-gooders were using it to reinforce class barriers.

        • ajp

          Maybe more egalitarian in the abstract, but I think we’d be better served in practice by more robust home ec and shop classes

          Like many I have mixed feelings on the “everyone should go to college” thing. I mean, now it’s basically a necessity. But I wish there wasn’t so much contempt for and looking down the nose at trades on the part of many middle class people

          I too would worry that a better alternative set of vocational high schools might reinforce class barriers. I don’t know what to do about that. But removing shop and home ec, and selling the idea that everyone should go to college is only egalitarian and good as an ideal. In reality it’s not working out too well.

          • ajp

            I would also submit that the very recent idea that everyone needs a college education is actually anti-egalitarian. I think it deeply stigmatizes those who make the perfectly valid choice enter trades/go to vocational school. I find that deeply disturbing.

            • I generally agree. My point is simply that the problems of not having home economics and shop aren’t the product of a grand plan by the “over class,” but rather unintended complications from more generally benign or even positive motives.

              • ajp

                I get it. Just a sore point for me.

                • GoDeep

                  I think both you two are right. I think the ending of shop & home ec had positive intentions but unintended consequences…and really both boys & girls need home ec & shop.

            • Hob

              If my former high school (a large-ish public school in a depressed medium-small Pennsylvania city) is at all typical, you’re overestimating the current influence of the “everyone should go to college” ideal; if anything, the pendulum has swung back pretty far in the other direction. They now have four or five very rigidly defined “tracks” there: one is basically liberal arts/college prep, one is for sciencey stuff, and then there’s the one with shop and home ec. The latter (which is, as far as I can tell, the only way you can take shop) is so low in anything resembling liberal arts foundations that students on that track might have trouble getting into even the most basic community college, should they later decide to do so.

              Did I mention that you’re supposed to choose which of these tracks is right for you at age 16?

              Oh, also there is a “business” track which includes no foreign language classes, no math other than basic algebra, no science, and virtually no English. So that explains Megan McArdle.

              • GoDeep

                So that explains Megan McArdle.

                And you win the kewpie doll!

          • GFW

            It seems to me that many of the people I’ve run into in the building trades have nicer houses than the “white collar middle class”. Agreed that there is a stigma – very few middle managers want their children to take up plumbing. But they should rethink because there are definitely benefits to having such practical skills.

            • Yes and no. My step-brother is a union electrician, and when times are good they’re very good. But the last four years have been brutal, and only in the last 6 months has there been much reason for optimism.

              • Plus, there’s more to a job than income/compensation. It’s damn hard work, being on a construction site every day, whether it’s 102 and humid or 7 below and windy. And it’s physically demanding. My step-brother has already had moderately serious knee surgery and a major reconstruction of his rotator cuff, both before he was 40.

                He likes his job, a lot, so it’s not like he’s working in a gulag. But it comes with costs that offset the good compensation when the construction industry is going well.

              • Not to mention the limited demand for these services. If these professions became flooded, the money would collapse.

      • The nutrition knowalls are the worst, because they don’t account for food deserts.

        I think it stems from ultimately not giving a crap. The entire point of the exercise seems to be to run around yelling Your Doing it Wrong!

        They start with the premise that poor people aren’t interested eating healthily.

        When you show them proof to the contrary (people flocking to demonstrations about how to cook healthily) they huff about them not buying those foods.

        When you explain food deserts, the obvious solution is to go to a decent grocery store.

        When you pull out a map and public transportation time tables (assuming there’s public transport) and note the time and distance involved they accuse you of creating obstacles.

        They have a perfectly workable solution, it isn’t their fault that stupid poor people are too stupid to follow their simple instructions!

    • Karen

      On Home Ec: it was a complete waste of time class when I was in school. Students who took three years of deck could take Advanced Tailoring — an excellent sewing class — as juniors. But taking Home Ec precluded taking foreign languages because there was no place in the schedule for both classes.

      That said, my grandmother taught a class in gardening, canning, and preserving through the county extension service paid for by the WPA, and then in the 40’s by the War Department. My mother thinks she can find one of Grandmother’s instruction books. She taught the class on evenings and Saturdays, at churches, school, or some specially equipped count offices. I don’t know what the official name of the project was, or even if it was national or just something Sam Rayburn wangled for east Texas. Still, it was an extremely good project, and probably helped the health of that corner of the rural South immensely. Heck, I would take something like this if it were available!

  • Nobdy

    It’s terrible.


    Actual Republican responses: “Where’s the father of her children?” “Why doesn’t she get a second job?” “When I was poor and on food stamps and welfare the government didn’t help me!” “We’ve all been poor at one point or another. Why Mitt and I had to sell some stocks his father gave him.”

    Here’s the real headline of the piece for me:

    For a long time, Roberts wasn’t political. When she couldn’t pay her bills, she just assumed that that was how things were, and always would be.

    Way to go Democrats. Really going out there and energizing the base. If your base is latte sipping San Francisco app programers who care about gay marriage because they have gay friends and vaguely care about “the poors” as long as they don’t have to pay higher taxes or 50 cents more for those lattes or deal with inconveniences of any sort.

    Sometimes I imagine a party that went out to the Robertses of the world and said “We support you! We support your right to a union! We support your living wage! You deserve a better life!”

    There’s a lot of poor people out there, many of whom can still vote despite the Republican party’s best efforts.

    • jackrabbitslim


    • Anonymous

      And how long would it take before the banks started cutting back on their bribes graft exercise of free speech through campaign contributions

      And which politician would lead that fight and pass up her scraps the money people throw at politicians to keep them in line reward for selling her soul lucrative return to the private sector where her knowledge of the legislative process helps investment firms be more efficient

      Faced with the choice between hard organizational work for decades with the high possibility of complete failure and ensuring the good life for my great grandkids plus getting my dick sucked publicly as an important person in the bargain . . . I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t make the right decision

    • Stacy

      Excellent post. Even though I vote Democrat pretty much exclusively, they have – with a few exceptions – all but abandoned the working poor in this country. It is shameful.

  • MPAVictoria

    Yeah pretty much.

  • Steve LaBonne

    I keep hearing this sound in my head. It’s like the clicking of knitting needles.

    • YooHooligan

      Heh. “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a readah!”

  • Balu

    According to the living wage calculator (http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/0600153000) even $15 not enough for 1 adult and 1 child in Oakland, CA, for which a living wage=$23.22.

  • Zing

    Someone drops out of high school, has three kids by age 23, and lives in the second most expensive metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere, and takes an indoor 30-hour per week job, and expects to live well?

    How much exactly do you all support subsidizing the reproduction of the permanent underclass?

    Also, while it is fun and easy to attack “slumlords,” how many of you have entered the business of renting apartments to the low-income poor, so you can do so on fair and ethical terms?

    Myself, I know I’m not hard hearted enough to evict someone with children to the street, so I’d be awful at the business. Instead, like many if not most of you that have savings, it goes to index funds.

    • Won’t somebody think about the rich?

      • Zing

        Erik, do you have 10,000 saved up? That is all you’d need to get an FHA loan for an old duplex in Rhode Island. Become an ethical renter of low-income housing. Be the change you wish to see.

        As for the rich, I’m all for raising their taxes substantially, but I’d use it to cut the taxes of responsible middle class people, not those who have three children they know quite well they cannot begin to support.

        • I have nowhere near $10,000 saved up. What, you think I make a salary that allows me to save money?

          • Zing

            I assumed you make about 50 grand with good benefits, which is usually enough to save some money.

            • You’re not doing a good job of presenting yourself as someone in touch with the lives of most Americans, or at least not those who live in the Northeast, in the DC area, in Chicago or on the Pacific Coast.

            • ajp

              Maybe he has loans. Maybe he has dependents (not just kids, maybe sick or out of work siblings or parents). Maybe he has very large medical bills to pay off. Dozens and dozens of things. Reducing someone’s financial situation to their salary is hilariously dumb.

            • DAS

              IME, if your household income is 50K/year, unless you are living by yourself, you don’t have $10K to invest for a down payment on a rental unit.

              I know things are cheaper elsewhere, but in the NYC area (if you want to live in a decent school district), you need a household income of at least $70K to even rent a 2 bedroom apartment or (supposing you inherit a bunch of money or something for the down payment) to purchase a 2 bedroom place. Being a middle class household nowadays requires about $20K/person annual take home (e.g. after taxes) in many places. So if Erik’s supporting a family on his income, he’s not even middle class.

          • Per your post on the NYT article, you just need to find a big corporation or industry that needs a spokes-historian and Ka-Ching!

            • Joseph Slater

              +1 for “spokes-historian.”

        • Implied in your comment is nobody should work cheap jobs in expensive areas and assume they’re anything other than a permanent underclass, leading to the further implication that for people to live well in an expensive metro area they need a compliant and permanent underclass.

          I’ll be generous and assume you’re not doing a good job of thinking through the implications of your beliefs, versus assuming the other obvious explanation for that comment, which is that you’re kind of an asshole.

          • Zing

            I stand with Yglesias, the poor in Oakland should either move to Texas or the Midwest, and also housing construction in expensive cities should be less regulated to reduce its price.

            And while I wish it were otherwise, assertive mating means the underclass is becoming increasing permanent with increasingly few heartwarming exceptions.

            • So you confirm that you are just basically kind of a bad person. It must be nice to tell the poor what to do. Meanwhile, I’m curious as to who is going to be serving the wealthy people of the Bay Area their burgers or coffee?

              • Meanwhile, I’m curious as to who is going to be serving the wealthy people of the Bay Area their burgers or coffee?

                People who know their place in the natural order of things, and don’t complain about it.

              • N__B

                Robots programmed to grovel.

                • Pretty damn much. Because it doesn’t take too close a reading of NeoCon thought (FLABW) on social-economic issues to understand that in their view, people who make less than 6 digits a year don’t have the right to eat or sleep.

                • Tristan

                  Why would an MBA be serving coffee?

                • N__B

                  Because it’s all he’s qualified to do?

              • Zing

                Erik, this sort of ad hominem I don’t think is persuasive. If enough poor people leave Oakland, housing demand will decrease and the supply of low wage workers will decrease. This will mean less pressure on limited housing resources and higher prices for personal services for the rich. These are both positives.

                • What are they supposed to fucking do to get to Texas – Hitchhike?

                  And what kind of living accommodations will they find there? Where will the deposit and first month’s rent come from?

                  Oh – and once there, they’ll drive DOWN the already low wages of the Texas natives.

                  Jesus H. Christ in a handcart, you’re not only heartless, you’re a god damned idiot.

            • DocAmazing

              the poor in Oakland should either move to Texas or the Midwest

              Yes, being born in a place–and having parents and grandparents who were likewise born in that place–gives you no right to live there. Just ask the Cherokee.

              housing construction in expensive cities should be less regulated to reduce its price.

              First, we have another example of an economic savant who is unfamiliar with the very basic concept of “inelastic demand”; second, we have someone who has never worked in building or construction, and is unaware of the existence of an Oakland tradition called “earthquakes” which requires very specialized building codes and practices.

              Other than that, very, uh…insightful.

              • N__B

                The cost of construction suitable to a high seismic zone is maybe, maybe, a five of ten percent premium in the total cost of construction, excluding the cost of the land. In other words, not a big deal.

              • ChrisTS

                Even places that don’t have earthquakes ought to keep a close eye on construction – and on existing housing stock.

                The idea that the poor should have to live in unsafe fire traps, on top of everything else they put up with, is just vile.

                • Don’t tell anybody, but I use the fees from my projects for the mindlessly wealthy to subsidize our work for housing non-profits.

                  You know, from each client according to their ability to pay, to each client according to their needs.

                • ChrisTS

                  Hence, my love for you.

            • Nobdy

              Assertive mating sounds hot. Is it like when you’re doing it and one of you asserts “We’re totally doing it!” or is just mating to make a point?

              • Anonymous

                Assertive mating is what subhumans do, like cattle but with t-shirts and while driving Cadillacs.

            • Chet Manly

              Fools like you and Yglesias never manage to explain how the heck a woman who can’t afford fruit is supposed to save up with the money to move halfway across the country. Or how the hell you expect a person reliant on public assistance just to barely feed her child would risk losing it by moving to a red state.

              Are you really so stupidly arrogant that you think none of the many millions of people trapped in poverty or near-poverty is as smart as you or Yglesias? You seriously believe it never occurred to them that maybe things could be better somewhere else?

              The working poor aren’t stuck where they are because of “assertive mating”. They’re stuck in there situation because there’s a multi-billion industry dedicated to keeping them powerless so they can be fed off of with constant nickle-and-dime fees. They’re stuck because we as a society don’t value a person’s labor so we think it’s OK to pay people far less than they need for basic survival. They’re stuck because shitheads like you and Yglesias who should be smart enough to know better would rather crap on the victims than even entertain the idea that maybe you’re ignorant about the barriers and problems facing the working poor.

              • Zing

                Not every poor person has strong ties to where they grew up. And so what if they do? My ancestors pulled up their roots to come to America for a better life, it is not unreasonable to suggest others do so when parts of the USA have sub 4% unemployment. You can be a fast food cashier in Dallas and rent an entire apartment for $500.

                By the way, a one way bus ticket from CA to TX is around $100. That is a couple extra shifts.

                • Aren’t you getting bored trolling? I’m sure you’re trolling, because it’s hard to actually be a Democrat and a liberal yet also be that profoundly stupid about human values, motivations and social and familial bonds. Glibertarian? Sure. Liberal or progressive? Nope.

                • Jordan

                  I think he probably does consider himself a democrat. I also think he is that stupid.

                  Which, really, is a problem. The actual social-democratic (or whatever) left in the US is like half of the Democratic party voters at best, pretty close to zero of the Republican party voters, and not high amongst non voters.

            • I stand with Yglesias

              Just as I thought.


            • Jordan

              So, this asshole has already been shot down by others below. But I do think the following quotes are priceless.

              “I stand with Yglesias”

              because, you know, trololol. But also!

              “assertive mating means the underclass is becoming increasing permanent with increasingly few heartwarming exceptions.”

              Unintentional self-parody is the best parody.

      • Bootstraps Loomis. Bootstraps.

        • Lee Rudolph

          That’s never going to replace Bond James Bond.

          Or even Dent Arthur Dent.

          • N__B

            Bond James Bond is why I had such a hard time with chemistry.

            • Bill Murray

              That’s James C007valent Bond

    • DocAmazing

      I worked for a landlord in flatlands Oakland back in the early 1980s. The guy was as dumb as a flat tire: he kept whining to me about how his tenants were ripping him off and he wasn’t making any money–but he kept forgetting that I was one of the guys who regularly saw his books and his profit-and-loss numbers–he was making serious bank. He sold out to a local church that bought two of his buildings and evicted all of the tenants–one building became a parking lot for the church, the other housing for the church’s elderly, housing about a dozen elderly people and displacing over twenty households in the process.

      I doubt that my former employer’s economic experience was all that unusual.

      • Zing

        For a normal month, renting to the poor will have a higher margin than to the middle class, in California the difference is roughly between 5 and 9 percent. The problem is these higher profits are punctuated by episodes of tenants not paying rent for 6 months before you can evict them, and then leaving the place trashed. Erik knows this, which is why he doesn’t use his savings to buy low income rentals.

        A big part of the blame for why poverty sucks are the pathologies and bad behavior of other poor people, which the section 8 program now foists into middle class neighborhoods.

        • I don’t have savings.

          Even if I did, I’m interested in your clairvoyant understanding about why I wouldn’t buy low income rentals.

          • Zing

            So if you did have 10,000 or more saved, which you most likely will eventually, are you going to be the change you wish for in the world? Or will you do the prudent thing and put it in an index fund?

            • I don’t even know what an index fund is. I do know that you are a jerk.

              • Nobdy

                You should probably learn what an index fund is, independent of everything else it is a useful thing to know.

              • Zing

                Am I hitting some sore spots? Yes Erik, the advocates for the poor have screwed the middle class too, often to the point they’ll vote for the advocates of the rich. Do you think they’re deluded and duped? I don’t. Section 8 is probably the best example.

                An index fund is the sole method of investing in the stock market that does not involve getting needlessly ripped off by wall street intermediaries, who push people into rip-off mutual funds, or rip-off hedge funds if they are rich and gullible. I use it as a generic stand in for a safe investment.

                • I don’t support capitalism so why would I invest in the stock market?

                • Zing

                  It is a prudent way to save for your retirement? Plenty of middle class socialists do so.

                • I’m living the change I want to see.

                • Zing

                  Given the present excess of savings and the paradox of thrift, thank you for not saving.

          • Zing

            I admit I forgot your posts about a modest upbringing in Oregon. Most humanities academics that I knew in school were from wealthy backgrounds relative to the rest of the student population.

            • DocAmazing

              Yeah, he’s one of the increasingly few heartwarming exceptions.

              • Zing

                Yes, he is an increasingly rare exception. And he’ll probably if he has kids do so with a high IQ woman while his poorest relatives won’t, thus contributing to the casteification of the USA.

                • Oh, STFU.

                • Zing

                  Is optimism mandatory now? I don’t like these trends either, but I recognize them and would like to figure out politically feasible solutions.

                  BTW, one reason I did not end up going to grad school, and instead doing less pleasant work that pays much better, is to support my large and downwardly mobile family in the rustbelt town I grew up in. Though unlike the lady profiled here, they’ve had the good sense at least to finish highschool and not have multiple children in their teens.

                • Jordan

                  No, but being a fucking moron does get you mocked.

            • Ergo, using your prejudices reasoning, he should just get out of academia and get a job working a rig in North Dakota.

              • Zing

                No, he should be congratulated for succeeding in a field dominated by the subsidized children of wealth, and adding diversity to his profession. I once considered doing the same, but lacked the fortitude for continuing my academic poverty until my 30s.

        • ajp

          which is why he doesn’t use his savings to buy low-income rentals

          Or, you know, the idea of being a landlord and the extra work that comes with it don’t appeal to him.

        • DocAmazing

          Except that you speak from ignorance. Even in vacancy-controlled Oakland, non-payment of rent will get you evicted much faster than six months, and there are very few tender-hearted landlords in flatlands Oakland. Evidence that renters are trashing the place (easily obtained; in San Francisco, the Building Owners and Managers Association will happily point you toward the legal shortcuts by which you can enter your tenants’ paid-for dwelling without their consent) enables a landlord to complete the eviction process that much more quickly. Section 8s were frequently left vacant by landlords for crackheads to inhabit; they were good tax write-offs, with the feds sending along a stipend, and had the landlord-happy effect of keeping a bunch of units off the market, thereby driving rents up further.

          But please, regale us with more examples of “the pathologies and bad behavior of other poor people”, such as daring to procreate without your permission, and dazzle us with your lack of first-hand knowledge of the Oakland rental market. we wait with bated breath.

          • N__B

            You mean, the documentary Pacific Heights was inaccurate?

          • Zing

            I can’t speak for Oakland, but I do know someone who spent that long evicting someone in San Francisco, with their total loss including repairs and lost rent and legal fees of about $25,000. Not a pro, but someone renting out their old house.

            If you’re savvy and on the ball, and the tenant does not know the tricks of the process themselves, which is the more typical situation, I concede it does not take 6 months.

            The point still stands that it is a tough way to make a living.

            • Interesting that you have sympathy for rent-takers and observe that it’s a tough way to make a living, but no sympathy for people who stand on their feet all day long and get paid poverty wages.

              Dickens must make no sense to you.

              • Zing

                I do have sympathy for them, and support food stamp cuts being reversed, a better EITC, restoring the payroll tax cut that expired, much better transit, and extended UI. I’d also prefer the native poor without HS educations not have to compete with increasingly large numbers of Latin American immigrants for the shrinking number of low skill jobs, which is more sympathy than most here have for them.

                With this sympathy, however, is a recognition that the blame for the poor quality of life for many poor people falls largely on themselves and their parents.

                Where we probably most differ is not the level of redistribution, but how it should be done. I’d require Norplant and drug testing as a condition of permanent attachment and support from the welfare state. These types of coersive conditions on public benefits were made impossible during the welfare rights era in the 70s. If Lamieux would like an example of backlash against a left wing supreme court victory, he should look to Goldberg and Matthews, not Roe.

                • I’d say something snarky, but really, I can’t make you look worse than you’re making yourself look.

                • Zing

                  Dana, if you can’t engage with me, a regular voter who checks the dem box about 95% of the time and is on board with 80% of the left agenda, you’re in a cocoon.

                • You saying I’m in a cocoon takes the lead for today’s greatest example of unintended irony/poor self-awareness

                • Hogan

                  I’d require Norplant and drug testing as a condition of permanent attachment and support from the welfare state.

                  a regular voter who checks the dem box about 95% of the time and is on board with 80% of the left agenda

                  That’s a pretty important 20% you’re leaving out.

                • Zing

                  Is it really that important Hogan? If the left wants to win elections and pass laws, it has to compromise somewhere. I really don’t get the strange taboo on the elite left of actively discouraging the poor single mothers from having more children. “Tough love” public assistance is wildly popular with the general public. W rode it into the White House.

                  I’m happy to support high and progressive taxes and substantial redistribution, so long as it supports traditional and real virtues like education, work, and not having children you can’t support.

                  You can go ahead and reject my compromise, and what you’ll get instead is middle class voters defecting to the right. California of all places junked its general assistance welfare pretty much entirely.

                • Hogan

                  Is it really that important Hogan?

                  I guess I’m just a hardass on the subject of mandating unnecessary medical interventions based on income. Call me radical.

                • Zing

                  We disagree about “unnecessary” here. Aside from that, I am not talking mandate, but a condition of receiving some forms of assistance.

                  Nonetheless, I am genuinely interested in why you feel so strongly. To me, it is just basic utilitarian good sense.

                  Moreover, prudent women already use birth control and don’t have multiple children while single teenagers. I just don’t see it as unreasonable to expect people who contribute so much less to society to act the same in return for public largesse levied by coersive taxation.

                  I’d prefer women like the one profiled made better choices while young, but there is a balance to be struck here between what society can reasonably expect of her, and what she can reasonably expect from society. I think we can both do better.

                • I’m now starting to think you’re just someone screwing with us, possibly even MattY trolling in a BF Skinner-like persona, because liberals and progressives haven’t really trafficked in eugenics for about 70 years or so.

                • Hogan

                  We disagree about “unnecessary” here.

                  We do. I don’t mean it as a synonym for “convenient” or “possibly cost-effective but I haven’t really thought it through” or “satisfying to a certain kind of moral sensibility.”

                  Aside from that, I am not talking mandate, but a condition of receiving some forms of assistance.

                  Why only some forms of assistance? If there’s an important principle at stake here, why not apply it to recipients of SSI, or Pell grants, or ag subsidies, or ACA subsidies?

                  Or if you want cost-effective, why not house TANF recipients in dormitories with strict curfews, no visitors, and maybe a work requirement? It could be as big as the Magdalene laundries. Or we could just call them prisons. If poverty is outlawed, only outlaws will be poor.

                • Zing

                  Hogan and Dana, I posit that there is a trade off here between what level swing voters will agree to for welfare programs, and what conditions are attached to them.

                  I think it is hard to deny this entirely, though you can disagree with me that it is a pretty big one.

                  If you accept this premise, why not get more welfare but with more conditions attached? Maybe W was just lying about this, but there seemed to be a bit of a Christian welfare state moment around 2000-2001 where such a deal could have been made.

                  Also, now it is eugenics to think it is a horrible choice for poor teenagers to have multiple kids, and public policy should seek to discourage this strongly?

                  That’s actually where I differ with Yglesias. His view is more cash for the poor is the best way to help them, not more subsidized housing, doctors and food. My preference is for a large but somewhat intrusive and paternalistic welfare state.

                • Hogan

                  I posit that there is a trade off here between what level swing voters will agree to for welfare programs, and what conditions are attached to them.

                  I guess we’ll have to struggle on without you then. Respect for fundamental human liberties is kind of a dealbreaker for some of us.

                  Maybe W was just lying about this, but there seemed to be a bit of a Christian welfare state moment around 2000-2001 where such a deal could have been made.

                  And yet somehow, in eight years, he never found the time even to propose such a deal. Kinda makes you think. Well, it makes me thing, anyway.

              • Anonymous

                me, a regular voter who checks the dem box about 95% of the time and is on board with 80% of the left agenda,

                Sorry, how on earth do you square the former with the latter?

                Thinking isn’t your strong suit, is it red tea zinger?

            • DocAmazing

              Well, given that your friend in San Francisco was entirely unable to contact the Building Owners and Managers Association for pointers on evictions, and that your friend represents a very small fraction of San Francisco landlords (most rental units in SF are owned by large landholding corporations), then golly, what a rough slide! Except that the increase in equity on the property over the period of the tenant’s occupancy (depending on the year) was probably in excess of that $25 000. That equity, by the way, was probably earned while the owner paid little or nothing, as the rent covered the taxes and the mortgage (if any remained).

              So we’ve established that your example a) is atypical in terms of the economic profile of the landlord; b)is atypical in the level of understanding of rental law of the landlord; and c) was probably not a net loss given the appreciation in equity. But no one suffers like a landlord, so your point still stands.

        • GoDeep

          Being a landlord is hard. We rented out my grandmother’s house after she died. The average household income in the area was abt $15-$20K/year. We charged $350/mo for a house that had been completely renovated & expanded top to bottom. The kitchen was 3X larger. We tried to minimize the creditworthiness issue by renting to people with strong personal references. The 1st tenant was the sister of my mother’s best friend. The 2nd tenant was the cousin of a cousin. Over the course of the 10yrs we held the house we got abt 50% of the rent we were owed. The last tenants we evicted after not getting rent for 7 mos. The attorney fees ate up what rent we had gotten from them that year. My parents had insisted on giving the family 6 months to pay b/cs they had 4 kids, but all that really did was give them time to trash the place. We’re not sure why they got so far behind. We saw their check stubs & the parents had solid working class jobs for the city.

          From my experience & from the experience of my close friends who rent properties in low income areas, there just aren’t any easy/pat solutions. In a lot of poor areas landlords know that they will go months at a time without getting rent until the tenant gets their EITC check; in the interim landlords self finance that weak cash flow. I wouldn’t invest in low income rental properties anymore.

          • Zing

            Yes, this is what happens when nice people get into the low income housing business.

            You also illustrate one of the stupidities of our welfare system: the big lump EITC refund rather than a gradual subsidy.

            • GoDeep

              The only way to eliminate that feature of welfare, Zing, would be to give ppl their EITC based on prospective income, as opposed to year end returns…If they strung out the EITC, the landlord would have to wait even longer to be fully compensated, no?

              • Zing

                You’re right that an income subsidy could not exactly replicate the EITC. I’d replace it with an exemption from all payroll taxes for the first X dollars of income. Alternatively, you could make the credits monthly, especially for people who qualified the prior tax year.

                Forced savings type programs make sense for the middle class, but not the poor, who need money ASAP to pay their living expenses.

          • DocAmazing


            Jesus, enough already. There’s BOMA’s web address. Learn how to evict non-paying tnenants; learn how to garnish wages; learn how to set up agreements for part of the rent in lean times, with the rest to be paid back when times are better. Yeah, no one suffers like property owners, so there’s a link to some property owners with whom you can commiserate.

            • GoDeep

              You realize that the very things you’re talking abt–garnishing wages, late fees, etc–are the things that Shakezula is criticizing above, right?

              That’s what I mean when I say there are no easy solutions out there. Who wants to garnish the wages of low income tenants? Who wants to charge late fees? Who wants to evict a family of 4? These things can be done but they’re not easy. Speaking for myself they were quite hard.

              • GoDeep

                btw, when I say “easy” I don’t mean administratively, I mean morally, or spiritually.

              • DocAmazing

                Who wants to accept partial rent during lean times? Who wants to recognize that the increase in the value of the property goes entirely to the landlord, not the renter, but mysteriously does not exist when we discuss the travails of the landlord?

                If you seek sympathy for landlords, you’re going to have to do better than “we didn’t get full rent on a building that likely had no outstanding mortgage and was appreciating”.

                • GoDeep

                  Whether or not a house is appreciating depends on where it is. My grandmother’s house is depreciating. I have friends in Phoenix, Vegas, LA & Oakland who saw substantial depreciation after the ’08 bubble. Some are still underwater.

                  And, btw, I’m not suggesting sympathy for landlords–no doubt Oakland has plenty of slumlords–I’m just saying there are no simple solutions. The economics of low income apt rentals deliver marginal returns–at least if you’re ethical. There are vast swaths of the Midwest for instance which deliver only modest appreciation (3-8%).

                  How much appreciation do you have in the poor areas of Oakland? Or the East Bay?

                • HUGE difference between between how LA/Oakland were effected by housing collapse vs the effects on Phoenix/Las Vegas. LA and the Bay Area recovered very quickly, iirc faster than any other markets in the US other than the DC metro area.

                • GoDeep

                  That’s true, Dana. Doc’s comments got me to do some Googling & I came across this description of the rental market in low income Oakland & the East Bay.


                  The one caveat is that the average sales price is now at the same level it was in ’04, meaning that if you bought after ’04 you’re still upside down (if you haven’t been foreclosed on or didn’t short sell).


            • Zing

              Bay area landlords got lucky with appreciation and gentrification. I’d happily repeal prop 13 and make them pay up some of that windfall. But in basically the entire interior US, they were not so lucky, and they are offset by the nearly all Detroit and Cleveland landlords who lost 100% of their equity.

        • Tristan

          A big part of the blame for why poverty sucks are the pathologies and bad behavior of other poor people

          Why don’t you become an ethical poor person and lead by example?

          P.S. Still serious about my offer below

          • Jordan

            now that would be living the change you’d like to see in the world he keeps talking about!

        • ChrisTS

          My father had three houses cut up into rental units. This was up in lily-white New England. He often had tenants who did not pay: they lost a job, they got sick, they drank/gambled away the rent, or they were scam artists. But, they were all also solidly middle class people.

      • DAS

        I was recently eating in a (mainly take-out) Chinese restaurant: a local landlord and one of the proprietors of the restaurant were talking about a mutual friend of theirs who also runs a restaurant. Evidently the friend is barely able to stay in business because his landlord keeps raising the rent. The landlord having this conversation pointed out that the other landlord was being typical of (commercial) landlords in being a complete idiot — after all, if your tenants go out of business because they can’t afford the rent, then you don’t get ANY rent money!

        I have had good luck with landlords in terms of being reasonable about rents, etc. … but I imagine that many residential landlords are as idiotically short-sighted as commercial ones tend to be.

    • Tristan

      Also, while it is fun and easy to attack “slumlords,” how many of you have entered the business of renting apartments to the low-income poor, so you can do so on fair and ethical terms?

      Myself, I know I’m not hard hearted enough to evict someone with children to the street, so I’d be awful at the business.

      I’m kind of a dick, but I don’t own property or have the money to purchase it. I’ll totally do the hard work if you put the funds.

      • Lee Rudolph

        So, which of you two is going to pay Campos his finder’s fee?

      • Zing

        I can’t compete with the FHA, which subsidizes loans to small landlords of middle to lower income housing.

        If you are serous and in a low cost area, you really don’t need much in savings to buy a cheap rental.

  • Zing

    The line in the article about “local franchises” is misleading. these days the typical fast food franchisee owns about 50 to 100 restaurants and inherited nearly all their wealth.

  • BlueLoom

    Meanwhile, Yum, which is not only the stupidest name of any corporation in the history of the United States but which also owns KFC, has paid its CEO David Novak $81.5 million over the past five years.

    Yum is also the owner of the Taco Bell brand, which has spent the past 11 years trying to fight off an ADA class action that alleges discrimination against people with disabilities.

    Here’s my take-home on Yum: they don’t pay their workers enough for the workers to feed and house themselves & their families, and they prefer not to serve customers who use wheelchairs and other assistive devices. Is that a great corporation or what?

  • runasone

    I suppose it’s a sign of my youth that I had no idea that was originally a Bob Marley lyric. I’d only ever heard the Dead Prez version.

    • Jordan

      Holy crap! I also only had ever associated that quote with Dead Prez.

  • Zing

    Yum is an interesting story. In the 80s Coke got a bunch of chains to switch to Coke products, and as a defensive move Pepsi borrowed a lot of money to buy 5 fast food chains. Then it spun them off as Yum with a gigantic amount of debt. For most of its existance, it was one or two bad years away from bankruptcy, forcing its managers to be especially ruthless.

    Spinning off a company after loading it with nearly impossible debt is a classic privte equity move, but regular companies do it too.

    • Spinning off a company after loading it with nearly impossible debt is a classic privte equity move,

      Known as the Full Romney.

      • Hogan

        or a Double Bain with a Twist.

    • Actually, they originally called it “Tricon Global Restaurants.” I always thought that name was hilarious, because “Tricon Global” sounded like such a stereotypical Evil, Inc. name. With a name like that you really need to be breeding eldritch horrors from spliced human and alien DNA in a top-secret isolation facility.

      “Yum!” may be stupid, but it doesn’t have the same frisson.

  • Karen

    Here is a Christian minister on the subject. Don’t read this if you’re easily nauseated.

  • e.a.f.

    And which idiot says working people don’t need Unions? People need Unions to ensure they have living wages.

    People need to ask themselves, should I go out and vote? Who do I vote for? What party will do me the most good? Any political party which does not ensure a “living wage” isn’t in a working person’s best interest. If neither the Democrats or republicans are going to be in your best interest, perhaps putting an independent into office will send the type of message politicians need to hear.

    It would be interesting to see how a candidate which simply listed the salaries of the corporate elite, their tax breaks, and the min. salaries of workers would make out on a platform of raising min. wages.

    In British Columbia, Canada our min. wage is $10 an hour and it is no where near what is required to make the poverty line. The impact is seen in the schools and homeless shelters and food banks. Food banks in fact are a growth industry.

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