Incentives for menial labor and why they are important in a productive society

People working in ‘dead end jobs’ understand how society really works. Jobs at retailers, grocery stores, hotels, theme parks, sanitation, restaurants, and others only offer menial labor for an absolute minimum of wages. We cannot have a ‘civilized society’ without these jobs as they give freedom to those who arguably contribute more to society to do more so. It also gives people who are looking forward to becoming more productive something to look forward to as well as experience dealing with other people.

The problem arises when you have minimum wage employees who become stuck doing something they don’t want to do. Young people, either on the road to higher education or those who become stranded/stalled on the way, know just how little they are getting paid and how replaceable they are. They see people on a daily basis frequent their place of work knows that those same customers are spending what would be a week’s wages for the employee in a few minutes. They become jaded and start to feel stranded and a sense of abandonment from this ‘successful society’ they so desperately wish to be a part of.

The sense of longing for a prosperous life, or the American version of it anyway, can trace its origin to the parents of the pervious generation and the constant encouragement and conditioning that working these types are jobs are a sign of failure in the grand scheme of things. While these jobs are absolutely necessary, society has told us that working them should be beneath us, while now telling us that not having any job is just as bad.

What needs to happen is a changing of the foundation for how our young people need to view work ethic, and it starts with the parents and employers. Parents, who have salary jobs, should not encourage the shunning of low paid positions and encourage their children to do that job with the best of their efforts. Employers, and especially middle management, should encourage their workers with positive reinforcement and try to work with them, as opposed to the all too common approach of reminding them how replaceable they are.

Another side effect of menial pay for menial labor is the lack of enticement from minimum wage. Minimum wage just encourages workers to the do the minimum required not to get fired, and does absolutely nothing to incentives a good job. Workers know that because of the lack of wages, they need to do very little, and focus more on looking busy than actually being busy. For the sake of society and the well being of the workers that run it, I can only hope that overtime such changes take hold. I will end with one of my favorite quotes from comedians Chris Rock, “You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? It’s like, “Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.“.

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