Minimum wage ethic is an uninspiring quote

I saw this post on my favorite fitness page, and, being my favorite page, I didn’t want to say anything, but the concept of the quote was so insulting that I felt I had to.  While I won’t hesitate getting into a good internet argument on Politico, or any other of the news sites I read, I don’t really like to engage on Facebook on sites that I like, just because it seems unproductive, or generate bad feelings on my part.  Other people had commented that it was insulting, and the page admin wrote back that people were taking this the wrong way, it was posted on a fitness page, but people will see the negative in everything.

Million dollar dreamI wrote: “This is my favorite page, which made me hesitant to post a critical comment. I know nothing you post would be with bad intent 🙂  It’s hard to unpair ‘minimum wage work ethic’ though from the work ethic of people who make minimum wage. It’s not a very abstract quote, and the culture blaming people who make minimum wage for their failings is very prevalent, sometimes subtle sometimes not, and the language used to justify it, looks very similar to the quote posted”

She later posted that the quote was deleted due to misperceptions, and appreciated everyone’s input.  I was secretly pleased, and also amazed at how many people were commenting that those that were insulted took this wrong, get offended at everything, need to ‘get over themselves’ blah blah.  Very few people agreed that this was offensive.  Later on, I realized that the quote stayed, and the post saying it was deleted, was deleted.

The thing about a metaphor, is it has to be associated with meaning, in order for it to mean something. Being posted on a fitness page is irrelevant to the underlying assumptions in the quote itself.  If I said, “you can’t have a coffee cup dream on a spoon work ethic” people would just be like.. huh? Because the associations make no sense.  The assumptions pair dollar amounts to value.  e.g. million dollars good  vs minimum wage bad.     Not only was minimum wage itself deemed bad, but a work ethic was attached to it.   The first half of the quote wasn’t so bad.  You could just say, I have “million dollar dreams” but can’t get there without working hard.   That is still slightly problematic because it associates millionaires with positive values which may or may not be true, but at least it doesn’t use a comparison  of the person on the opposite side of the spectrum.  But it didn’t say that.  It used a moral comparison to having an awesome dream, and not being able to achieve it if you only work as hard as someone in poverty.   People who make minimium wage are generally service workers,  fast food workers, cleaners, undocumented workers, more often than not minorities, and these groups are associated as people without dreams to move up in life.  The image of the low wage worker is someone who just shows up, but doesn’t really care.  Someone who does not bust their ass.  Someone who has moral failings because they aren’t trying hard enough.  They are in their shitty situation by choice. Because if they worked harder to achieve their million dollar dreams, with a million dollar work ethic.. than you could deadlift 400 lb.  In reality, most millionaires inherit wealth and it is handed down in the family, as well as due to privilege of identity -eg white and male.  Wealth is much easier to make if you start with some.  That’s why loans are so important in business.  Of course there are always the few exceptions of people who started from nothing, and those stories are trumpeted up to prove that it’s true for everyone.  But it’s not.  Those are the exception, not the rule.

This quote could be applicable to many settings – as can many.  That is the point.  But that doesn’t change the intent and meaning of the words.  If this said, “you can’t have American dreams on a mexican work ethic” people would be all up in arms.  Or “you can’t achieve like a man on a woman’s work ethic”  my point is this:  It makes no difference to what setting you then use this for inspiration.  The only reason people get inspired by it, is because the words are attached to meaning and value.  These other quotes just mentioned – using  similar word associations are just as obvious and insulting.  Why then do we not see / care about class issues as much as race or gender? I think because we are more aware of it, and the assumptions behind it. Is it not racist or sexist if it is used on a fitness page? Of course it would be.  And we know that.   So in short, I found this quote offensive and factually inaccurate.

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About Musings over Coffee

Fitness enthusiast. Love to travel, mess up recipes, ponder random things, get riled up about the news, all of which nearly always coinciding with one of my favorite things in the world: Coffee.
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12 Responses to Minimum wage ethic is an uninspiring quote

  1. Karlene says:

    My apologies in advance if I did not review your site carefully enough (I clicked on about two other pages of your site to see if I could find your name), because I don’t know your name. I appreciate your response to the quote about million dollar dream and minimum wage, which I, too, first saw on Facebook. Before reading your response I thought it was a motivational quote. I am so grateful that you wrote this, because it definitely made me rethink things. Thank you.

  2. I saw this “motivational” quote posted on Facebook today by a housemate from college, who I also do not think at all intended it with the weight of this line of thinking in mind. She is not someone who comes to mind when I think of those who would perpetuate such a classist line of thinking. And yet, it undeniably does carry that value judgment, as you’ve so very eloquently discussed here. I saw it and it made me wince. At first, I did a double take, and I thought “wait, did I read that wrong? Maybe I should check my knee jerk response…” Because it seems it would be more factually accurate (and a piece of social commentary in an entirely different way) if it said “You can’t have a million dollar idea WITHOUT a minimum wage work ethic,” because indeed so many millionaires/billionaires undeniably profit immensely off the hard work of those who are struggling just to get by.

    But I am not sure how to approach this, if at all. Do I say something to her? Do I post your very excellent response in reply? It feels awkward and passive-aggressive to do that, especially since she’s not someone I am in contact with any more, so I don’t want to preach at her. As you say, making arguments on Facebook isn’t always the most effective or productive thing. But, it also made me sick the more I thought about it. Thank you for putting this into words in a way that I was struggling to do. It’s helpful to read this kind of thing, because it makes me realize “oh, I’m not alone,” or I’m not crazy and overreacting, someone else saw it too. So, thank you.

  3. Musings over Coffee says:

    Thank you for the insightful comment! I loved reading it. Especially the part that “You can’t have a million dollar idea WITHOUT a minimum wage work ethic,” Facebook is so hard. I have yet to decide for myself if it is effective or not. I often end up commenting just because it’s hard not to, but then I dread seeing what the responses are going to be. Even when I say it in the nicest way possible. I think the best responses have been when it is a close personal friend who knows I have good intentions. Perhaps posting something like.. “I’m really interested to hear what your thoughts are about this, but when I read it, this is how it sounds to me” And make it more about how you feel about it, rather than about what they are posting. Good luck! If you do post something, I’d be curious in hearing how it went. 🙂

  4. Greg says:

    With all due respect, I think the quote is not insulting people who HAVE minimum-wage jobs, but saying that if you want big rewards you have to challenge yourself.
    Yes, working minimum wage jobs can be tiring, but not as much to people with better attitudes, better health or better skills, that’s why they pay minimum wage. Go get more skills, better health or more knowledge, and you can get a bigger paycheck. Some people get promoted to manager, some stay stuck at the register.
    If you’re talking fitness, then consider those who walk 45 minutes versus those who run 45 minutes. Both put in the same amount of time, but one is clearly trying to get a more challenging workout and better results.

    • Musings over Coffee says:

      Hi Greg! Thanks for your comment. In your comment, similar to the quote, you are equating a pay scale with how hard someone is working. That is actually insulting, and that is where we disagree. There is no evidence that someone who makes a million dollars works harder than someone at minimum wage. In fact it is the opposite. A majority of people who work minimum wage are adults with families and put in more hours of work than someone at the high end of the pay scale. Not to even get into union busting and retaliation and firing people who try to improve their living conditions. In a country where we have homeless veterans out on the street, immigrants who are lawyers and doctors who are forced to drive taxis because they can’t get the right papers, or millions and millions of hard working people who lost their jobs during the economic crisis.. it is hard for me to understand this concept of associating your value as a person with your income or your job. It just doesn’t work that way.
      Your fitness example also doesn’t work on a physiological level. It does not take into account how hard the body is working. Someone who is extremely over weight, out of shape, or even sick would be working very very hard to walk 45 minutes. Versus an ultra runner who runs 45 minutes at a 6min mile pace on rest day. Just because they ran faster in that time doesn’t mean they were working harder. If the quote were applicable, it should say: “push yourself as hard as someone who works three jobs”

  5. Greg says:

    Perhaps I need to do a better job putting my thoughts down into words. I apologize. Let me try again.
    I think the key here is “work ethic.”
    That’s not a person’s value, that’s a state of mind. Also, the quote is not talking about how the world sees you, it is how you see yourself. This quote challenges you to think: What can I accomplish? Will I strive for greatness, even if I might fail?
    Many of my friends and I worked in minimum-wage jobs when we were teens, but today we’re teachers, physical therapists, lawyers, policemen, editors, mechanics and more. None of us dreamed of flipping burgers or stacking toasters on shelves for the rest of our lives. We knew these were stepping-stone jobs, a way to make date money or to keep our beaters gassed up.
    We knew we had much greater potential.
    We knew we could do so much more with our hands, our feet, our minds. We knew we could get jobs that had a greater impact on society. Perhaps we would one day own a fast-food restaurant, employ other minimum-wage workers while using the profits to donate to the local Booster Club while also paying property taxes to improve parks and schools and roads. Or, perhaps we could run for office and create new laws that lower taxes and give people greater take-home pay.
    That’s greater potential. That’s a million-dollar work ethic.
    Yet there are people who think that if they work a minimum-wage job they DESERVE new cars, smartphones, Internet access and a 2,000-square-foot house. They want to live like kings but refuse all the responsibilities and scrutiny that come with it. THAT is a minimum-wage work ethic.
    I know a lady at the checkout lane at the local grocery store who brightens my day just with her attitude and service, and I know a lady at the checkout lane at the local gas station who frequently complains about the world around her. I know a third lady who works as a custodian, but also volunteers at the school. I know a fourth lady who sits at home and watches TV all day. They all have great potential and great value as human beings, but only two realize it and are doing something with it.
    You can’t have a million-dollar dream with a minimum-wage work ethic.

  6. Musings over Coffee says:

    Thanks for your reply. I do understand your point of view, but everything you have said here is anecdotal. Lets try to get beyond that. I will try to do a better job to clarify what I think is missing here. Lets focus on first defining what work ethic is. From your comment, you seem to say that good work ethic means striving for success and greatness, and challenging yourself. From my perspective all of these qualities can / or sometimes aren’t achieved no matter what income level you are at. For example, you list of what you consider worthwhile careers. “teachers, physical therapists, lawyers, policemen, editors, mechanics.. or running for office” The latter example amused me, as I can list hundreds of politicians which corruption charges have been filed against them. These are typically the people who think they deserve to live in a 2,000 foot square home on the public’s dime. A profession is not equal to a moral equivalent or standard of conduct of behaviour. Police officers have also been sent to jail for murder while on duty, and teachers get fired for sexual offenses against their students. Catholic Priests recently went through an international abuse scandal. Anyone can have bad work ethic. And not even just the major stuff. Are there police officers just doing the bare minimum? Maybe some who had a higher vision of themselves in their career and aren’t achieving it? Absolutely.

    But if we did want to delve into how much they make, these careers you mentioned don’t even make very much. Lawyers are all over the board, but public defenders with a fancy law degrees are considered part of the ‘working poor’ in many states. In Montana, my home state, starting teachers make an average salary of $26,000. Police on average make more, but not much. Certainly less than $100,000. Definitely not a million. What kind of salary does someone need to make to all of a sudden be included in the idea that they have a good work ethic and a worthwhile member of society? Striving to be a millionaire excludes quite a lot of professions. Does the millionaire who inherited their wealth and never had to work a day in their life have a great work ethic? I would say no.

    My point is this. There are good and bad people in all professions. There are always people who do the bare minimum. No matter what scenario they are in. I agree with your definition of work ethic. If you apply it, you will find that people all over the spectrum of salary fit it. There are people who strive to be the best version of themselves, who volunteer their time, who treat others with respect, who are trying to make this world a better place, and this has absolutely nothing to do with how much they make.

    I challenge you to go into a Hotel, ask the manager if you can interview their staff for a project. (This could include hotel desk, cleaning crew, dishwashers, etc.) Maybe buy them coffee. Ask them what they do in their free time, what their goals are, and how they treat people. You might be surprised how motivated and kind people are at the lower end of the income scale.

  7. Greg says:

    I think I agree with your points.
    As far as the metaphorical comparison of the inspirational quote, I guess it comes down to this: It says “You can’t have a million-dollar dream with a minimum-wage work ethic.”
    It does not say, “You can’t have a million-dollar dream if you think like someone who works a minimum-wage job.”
    It’s not talking about your position, but your mindset.
    That’s what I got out of it, which is why I like it.

    • Musings over Coffee says:

      We can agree to disagree then on metaphors and how they are structured in a sentence. I strongly believe and I think most people reading the quote, take it to mean the latter. I do appreciate your time to comment and I enjoyed the conversation. 🙂

  8. Marie says:

    I was glad to see this because I saw this quote at my gym today and was very upset. It is offensive!! It implies that someone working for minimum wage doesn’t have a good work ethic or they don’t work hard. Really awful thing to say about the hard working folks that work for minimum wage – multiple jobs to make ends meet.

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