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Morgan Spurlock and minimum wage

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Steve Antler at Econopundit blogs about the first episode of Morgan Spurlock’s new show (also here), 30 Days.

In that episode, Spurlock and his fiancee try to eke out a living in Columbus, Ohio on minimum-wage jobs. As Econopundit points out, all those minimum wage jobs are scarcer than the producers apparently thought. All the easily-found jobs pay more than minimum wage. Spurlock signs on with a temp agency at $7/hr; his companion Jamieson dickers her wage down to minimum so as to not cheat the show’s premise.” The story follows the couple through the vicissitudes of living as members of the working poor, with special attention to health care problems encountered during their month of seeing how the other half lives.

The problem is, as Econopundit points out, Spurlock deals with the health care issue less than honestly.

For whatever reason he moves “up” the ladder and easily finds higher-paying work landscaping. And then his wrist immediately starts hurting, allowing the script to once again show the horrors of the American health care system as seen by the working poor.

But two important words are left out: “worker’s compensation.” The first thing you’re asked in any emergency room is whether the injury is work-related. (I know not only because I’m an educated economist but also because I’ve been there myself a few times.)

One can only conclude it interfered with the script’s political message so it was omitted, but the simple fact is even in his second, no-benefits job, Spurlock’s wrist injury was fully covered by his employer’s worker’s compensation policy.

The problem I had with the show, which I started to watch but then turned off in disgust, is the assumption that people who take minimum wage jobs are condemned to work at minimum wage jobs for the rest of their lives. This assumption is shared by reviewers of the show.

They subsist in an ant-riddled hovel, share a single bus pass, endure medical crises made worse by their poverty and take to sniping at each other. The point: This is no way to live. But in the land of plenty, this is the fate of too many who suffer on an hourly minimum that hasn’t been raised since 1997.

Minimum wage jobs are the fate of young, inexperienced, unskilled workers. After some time earning minimum wage, people graduate to higher paying jobs. They’re not stuck forever in a minimum-wage hell. Witness the experience of one of Econopundit’s readers:

As a two-time college drop-out who worked low skilled, low paying jobs for several years to eventually gain the skills and experience for decent paying work which I love, I’m always interested when people like Spurlock or Barbara Ehrenreich make claims about what can or can’t be done on low or minimum wages. The first year I supported myself (1994, at age 18) my gross income was less than $8000.00, with no credit cards and no car, and the only times I ever went hungry were when I decided to buy a novel or CD instead of dinner. I lived “paycheck to paycheck” only because I blew money on stupid crap like collectible card games.

I believe it’s called paying your dues.

Via Instapundit.

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  • http://xraystyle.blogspot.com Bryan McKay

    I believe it’s called paying your dues.

    And what about the people who are stuck in minimum wage for their entire life? Don’t deny that such a working class exists. What dues are they paying? I’m not arguing that these minimum wage jobs shouldn’t exist, as I am well aware that they are a necessary part of our economy. This doesn’t mean, however, that these minimum wage workers can’t be treated with a little respect and dignity, and just perhaps be given some of the recognition they deserve, something I don’t think your review offers.

  • http://tinkertytonk.blogspot.com Rachel

    Who says people who earn minimum wage don’t deserve respect? Not me. I was merely pointing out that most people do not earn minimum wage their entire lives. Also, Spurlock and his fiancee had a hard time getting minimum wage jobs at all–several of the jobs they found were above minimum wage.

  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/dorksandlosers Tan The Man

    I get tired of documentaries and shows like these that try to “toughen up” the normal person to the “actual” conditions of people. Life isn’t clear cut and when people try to show people the realities that some people have to go through and live with everyday, it comes off as unrealistic. I’m not saying that some people don’t live with such conditions, it just doesn’t really apply to as many people as believed.

  • Sunny

    I get tired of “reality” TV in general.

  • http://claudine.nipl.net/diary/ Claudine Chionh

    Sounds like Spurlock is doing in film what Barbara Ehrenreich did in her book Nickel and Dimed. An Australian journalist, Elisabeth Wynhausen, tried the same experiment in Australia and wrote about in Dirt Cheap.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I enjoyed the episode myself. All reality television is scripted to some extent, but I found it refreshing to see a program that took on real issues in an interesting, compelling, and mostly balanced way. If there was a message to the show, it’s that living on minimum sucks and that the health care system is hopelessly broken.

    Both worthy points.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Great article. Confirmed my suspicions about both this type of reality show and the difficulty of getting and staying in a minimum wage job, but it still made me interested enough to watch the show.

    Dave

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Jeff%20Bakalar Jeff Bakalar

    I happened to enjoy the show as well. I am however always skeptical of the validity of the content of docu-reality shows like this and others (Penn & Teller Bullsh**) but Spurlock and his production team do a great job of getting points across.

  • http://www.docofdiets.com dietdoc

    Eric writes: “If there was a message to the show, it’s that living on minimum sucks and that the health care system is hopelessly broken.

    Reply: Correct on both points, Eric, but I didn’t need Morgan Spurlock to tell me those two bits of information.

    As a participant in the broken health care system, it surprises me, as every year passes and every candidate gets elected, that we remain in the same health care mode as always. Just speaks to the power of the health care lobby, unfortunately. It’s time someone fixed the stupendous ironies and flaws in American health care and it starts with physician fees and reimbursement.

    And, in answer to the next question from the peanut gallery, yes, as a physician, I would most certainly support a system in which I make less money if it served the greater good.

    Cheers,

    Ron

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Ron — Even though you (and many many others) know that the health care system is broken, don’t you think it can’t hurt to get some more pub on the issue?

    Let’s face it: nothing is going to change until at least January, 2009.

  • Julie

    In response to “Dan the man’s” comments: I get tired of documentaries and shows like these that try to “toughen up” the normal person to the “actual” conditions of people. Life isn’t clear cut and when people try to show people the realities that some people have to go through and live with everyday, it comes off as unrealistic. I’m not saying that some people don’t live with such conditions, it just doesn’t really apply to as many people as believed.

    RESPONSE:
    I would like to point out that he is playing golf in his profile picture. So he might be a little removed from the life that many people are living. I am not sure how many people he “believes” are living this way, but there seems to be ALOT to me. 32 million people living below the poverty line is alot to me.

    http://www.plu.edu/~poverty/stats/home.html

  • julie

    I would also like to add that if anything outside of the normal realm of living should happen, they are screwed. Normal being food and shelter. Outside the realm being childhood illnesses, Christmas, college, broken cars or ambulance bills, school supplies.

  • http://www.cinnabar.com Randy Moore

    I heard of SSM mocumentary coming out but with a Jack in the Box theme called “Jack Me”. Anyone else heard of it?

  • http://www.superslimme.com kevin s

    I worked a minimum wage job through high school and learned all I could ,, the day I graduated I quit the job and started my own business,, and guess what ,, my old employer contracted me out to do the same work I was doing but at 20+ dollars per hour. You have to help yourself ,, its your personal responsibility. I could have eeked by but I wanted to excell. oh and the documentary coming out is “super slim me! ” made by me the rebuttal to the movie supersizeme!!

  • http://www.jackmemovie.com Jack Me

    If you think Morgan Spurlock sucks hind titty – we agree!
    In fact, we made an entire feature movie about this buttlick.
    Check out the trailer @ http://www.jackmemovie.com