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.