Monday, November 27, 2006

In Pursuit of the American Dream

There was a riveting piece in the New York Times today highlighting a low-income family struggling to make ends meet -- particularly an employee of this Burger King in Dallas.

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Her name is Gloria Castillo. She is a 22-year-old American citizen, born to an illegal immigrant from Honduras who came here while pregnant with Gloria. She works from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. and earns $252 a week before taxes. She also works a second job cleaning toilets in a bar while her husband also works in order for them to have the means to care for their two children. And they're just barely getting by. It's a gut-wrenching story for those of you who can actually put yourself in her position.

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The customers are rude tonight, drunk and bellicose. One guy doesn’t want to pay for his food, figuring it ought to be free. If he had wanted to rob the place, Ms. Castillo says with a tight smile, it would have been easy enough; the window doesn’t lock here like it does at the McDonald’s.


But consider the life inside that window on Loop 12 in West Dallas. There is a woman with children and no health insurance, undereducated, a foot soldier in the army of the working poor. The fry cook sneezes on the meat patties*. Cigarettes go half smoked. Cameras spy on the employees. Customers throw their fries and soft drinks sometimes because they think it’s funny.

(*Don't worry about a little snot on your food; if you are a frequent consumer of fast-food, you've probably had worse.)

Perhaps I'm the true "compassionate conservative" because I happen to care more about this woman's financial situation than anyone on the board of directors of Burger King.
...Burger King CEO George Brenneman abruptly announced his resignation recently, right after the company posted a net loss for its fiscal third quarter. Lucky for him, he signed an agreement with Burger King to ensure that he receives his base salary of $1.03 million for three years, and his annual bonus of $2.06 million for fiscal 2006. Thanks for the memories, indeed.

Nice. I sincerely hope Mr. Brenneman has enjoyed a tasty burger prepared by the same fry cook at this joint.

This isn't going to portray me as a very good capitalist, but I honestly feel the minimum wage in the U.S. should be $15 per hour. People struggling to feed families and working two or more shitty jobs deserve more. There should also be a "maximum wage" to offset the minimum. The idea of some prick in an expensive suit sitting in a glamorous office "working" (or in Brenneman's case, not working) and receiving over $1 million a year while the peon underlings are struggling to get one foot on the first rung of the economic ladder is unconscionable and repugnant.

Needless to say, with so many people like Gloria working two jobs and her husband working a different shift, proper nutrition is not going to be on the menu for her family.
She takes the boys to a McDonald’s for breakfast at 7:15 — the same place she used to work — before dropping them off at school at 7:45. A man named Carlos works the window there. They used to work there together.

Every morning, the boys’ order is the same: one sausage, egg and cheese biscuit; one bacon biscuit; two hash browns; and two orange juices. Ms. Castillo could take free food home from Burger King, but the boys like McDonald’s better.

She returns home, sleeps until 2 and collects the boys from school. She cooks them supper prepared from frozen packages, and sometimes they eat it in front of the television. It takes time and money to eat healthy, she says.

Damn right it does.
On Saturdays she attends community college, hoping that in a few years she will be a paralegal going to work in a downtown office tower, wearing a pantsuit. She is hoping for $20 an hour and a lunch break.


She looks at the crummy little house across the parking lot with peeling paint. “That would be good too, a little house. I don’t want much.”

I wish her luck in that endeavor. She'd be making $5 more than my suggested minimum wage. She'd have more time to spend with her husband and kids, and they might actually have a crack at the American Dream someday -- peeling paint and all.

photo credits: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Related recommended links:

USA Today: How the USA's largest companies compensate their chief executives.

In 2005, the average CEO of a Standard & Poor's 500 company received $13.51 million in total compensation, according to an analysis by The Corporate Library. This represents a 16.14 percent increase in CEO pay over 2004.

CEO’s Free Ride to Perksville…

How to Fight Poverty: 8 Programs That Work.

Crossposted at B3

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