Pondering Wages

I`ve been so busy blowing off steam on American gun laws and crime, a blinding truth eluded me. Something so basic, it escaped consideration until tonight. Forgive me if the nuances of my point are a little rough – I`m pondering as I type. While exchanging comments with wordpresser Behind The Booze, I innocently discovered the minimum wage for employees receiving tips is $2.13 an hour. Scraping my jaw off the floor I asked if she were yanking my chain. Her assurance convinced me to do a little research. Looking back I should have picked up on this sooner; my son has an American friend who told me in the state of Washington overtime is only paid after working more than 40 hours in a week.  Her employer can legally schedule her for 3 – 12 hour shifts a week without paying a dime in overtime. That in itself was shocking; I should have realized sooner the problem ran much deeper.

Taking a crash course in American labour law is tricky. As of 2009 the federal minimum wage was set at 7.25 an hour. But wait; did I mention exemptions. Employees who receive tips have a minimum set at 2.13, theoretically they keep their tips and if they average less than the federal minimum after wage and tips combine – the employer is supposed to top it up to meet the federal standard of 7.25. The wage for `tipped`employees varies from state to state, $2.13 is the lowest. Not as low as farm workers who only earn $1.60 an hour depending on the state. It gets better! Employers not conducting interstate business, whose income is less than 500,000 a year are exempt from paying minimum wage. As are seasonal and migrant employees, students, and certain disabled persons. Holy crap! These waters are far to muddy to wade through in one sitting – my feet are barely wet, yet I`m having trouble wrapping my head around what little I know. There are state laws, federal laws, exemptions, and exclusions – a lot to sort out.


Well over 30 years ago I visited San Francisco for the first time. An incredibly beautiful and vibrant city, yet for the first time in my life something struck me as odd. My sub-conscious tried to make sense of it – it wasn`t seeing homeless women and families for the first time, though that was certainly a piece of the puzzle. The ah-ha moment came when it dawned on me – San Francisco was a city of the very rich and extremely poor – no middle class in sight.

Over the years since, and many American cities visited; I`ve laid eyes on the same situation, over and over again. On one of our marathon road trips we found ourselves off the main road in east St. Louis. Not an area of `projects`, but a once thriving residential neighbourhood. Neglected infrastructure – pot holes large enough to swallow a car, street lights dark, abandoned businesses, families crowding dark porches of decrepit houses to escape the stifling heat, and most surprising – an abandoned hospital; squatters had taken up residence, with bed sheets covering broken windows.

Getting back to the ponder sparked by Behind the Booze….


My full on assault against the American mindset on guns and violence neglected to consider the minimum wage and convoluted labour laws. The average American has every right to be terrified of criminals – knowing this is a broad generalization, but grasping for a moment why crime might be more appealing than minimum wage – I`m thinking the lack of incentive to work, could account for oppressive crime rates.

Life is a crap shoot. Born of the wrong colour, wrong side of the tracks, or handicapped mentally or physically – odds are stacked against you. Sure, people rise above, but ponder options the majority are offered. Who can live on a minimum federal wage of $7.25 an hour. Convoluted exemptions, state vs. federal laws, and loop holes favouring business – no wonder crime looks more attractive.

My warm, fuzzy, mildly socialist Canadian view makes it difficult to comprehend unacceptable minimum wage. My part time bartenders make $16.00 an hour to start. In British Columbia the legislated minimum wage is $10.25, no ands, ifs, buts, or maybes. Time and a half is paid after 8 hours work, double time after 12,  any time a worker has less than 8 hours between shifts, or with less than 36 continuous hours free from work in a week. Even without benefits – those employed as part time or seasonal – universal, not for profit medical care treats every citizen equally.

I doubt I`ll ever be able to reconcile the legality of semi-automatic weapons, yet received a glimmer of understanding why crime is such a problem in America. Unskilled jobs in America are incapable of supporting a family, let alone any individual trying to get ahead. Our world has become unbalanced – I suggest we stop blaming violent video games, or perish the thought – working families or the lack of `God`,  and start taking a long hard look at what incentive there is for those dealt a lousy hand to get a job.

Before anyone jumps down my throat – I`m not painting everybody with the same brush by suggesting crime is the path of least resistance.  That said, pondering wages certainly expands my understanding of American problems.

minimum wage


21 thoughts on “Pondering Wages

  1. Great post NTP! We both worked pretty tough gigs today and I haven’t been so wet through since I took a shower in March! I cannot comprehend a $2.13 per hour either – I followed links and really liked your exchange with ‘You drink, Therefore I am’ and then moved on to ‘Tongue Sandwich’ where I laughed – and I mean really laughed …. lol is the only word for it! Thanks to you, I too am now regarding our American neighbours with a whole new perspective. Ponder this ….. the average hockey player ( well our local goaltender makes more in less than one period fo play then we will in five years. A player in the Premier Leag( UK Soccer) has just signed a contract for about $500,000 per week.

    • T. – Glad you liked it. 🙂 Good to see you on wordpress. High time you started a blog of your own! The 2.13 blew my fragile little mind – can you imagine doing our jobs for that! Yikes

  2. In Switzerland, Spain and as far as I know, other European countries, employers have found a nice way around wages altogether (note I left out the word minimum). You fire your staff for economic reasons, then you hire highly qualified graduates with a few years experience and you offer them an unpaid trainee position. And we wonder why young adults are disillusioned!

    • Money makes the world go round – unless you happen to land in a position other than that of power. Sneaky wrangling takes place in every country. In Canada employers keep staff just under the requirement forcing them to pay benefits. In most companies employees working more than 24 hours a week receive `benefits (medical and dental premiums paid) after a 3 month probation period. Canada has universal health care but after age 19 it costs a single person $54 a month. Benefits mean your employer offsets the cost for not only the employee but their family. Prescriptions are free or greatly reduced, basic dental work is provided without cost, and services such as massage therapy or physiotherapy are free.Canada has the federal Employment Standards Act which is pretty hard ass in favour of the employee. I confess to being somewhat misleading in my ponder. B.C. has a minimum wage of 10.25 however at the moment (though it is being phased out) something called the `training wage`is on the books. Persons (students for the most part) who lack job experience can be paid $8.00 an hour for the first 500 hours of employment.That said, it`s no $2.13 an hour! 🙂 “

    • It’s not just Europaens who do that. The U.S. has seen it’s share of the same. Fire 1 person with seniority, perks and enough time on the job not to be quite the go-getter and replace them with 2-3 new-hires at lower wages, fewer benefits, who have enough desire to get ahead that they’ll cut each other’s throats to get that next promotion.

      A retired photographer looks at life
      Peter Pazucha dot Com
      Life Unscripted on WordPress

  3. Great post, notestoponder. My thoughts exactly as expressed with much less detail in my blog of a few days ago (The world we live in). Keep up the good writing it is both inspiring and fun to read.

  4. Reading your post today made me feel that someone actually understood what is happening in the US these days. You defined it correctly when you mentioned a lack of incentive to work, no middle class and crime seeming to be more viable that working. Fortunately, not all of us think this way. Yes, the US is shooting themselves in the foot. Now their might be a little more light shed upon those crazy things you read in the paper about the 1% percent protests. Something that could have communicated an idea effectively lost ground from the start because of the randomness in what they were protesting about. Alas, I have been looking for a better place to live…thought of Canada but decided it’s too damn cold for my Floridian hide..still pondering…maybe Australia…I’ve got to check into their politics.

    • I’m still wrapping my head around U.S. wages and labour practices. It takes a lot to gob-smack me and this revelation knocked me on my ass.I made $4.30 an hour in 1975 as a roller skating carhop!Simply unbelievable.

      The insight gained has given me a much clearer understanding of American problems.The resulting clarity softens my hard ass opinion on many levels.

      I will never fully accept carrying a gun, or keeping a weapon loaded on the night table – that said – some of the fog has cleared, allowing me to see why it might be necessary.

      As for chilly Canada – seasons are spectacular. Something about the smell in the air or light in the sky, alerting you spring, fall, or winter defies explanation. It feeds the soul, and creates unity for lack of a better word. I never even lock the doors of my house and I live in the heart of Vancouver . The only thing I’m afraid of are the pesky black widow spiders in my basement and the rats and squirrels my dog (boxer) insists on catching then depositing on my bedroom floor.

      I couldn’t live in a place where paranoia or fear dictated my life. Even if the days were predictably warm and sunny – I’ll take rain or snow, the gift of northern lights, and politics free from lobbies anyday 🙂

      • It is less a factor of paranoia and fear and more a factor of disenchantment with a government system. The system is broke and those who have been elected to do something about it are too pig headed to do their jobs.

        We still don’t have a budget, services are being cut daily because of it. I think the politicians in charge of the budget should be docked in pay for their lack of results. If we lost 10% of the budget due to inaction, their pay should be cut 10% as well. What would you think of that idea?

        Canada is out…hubby lived in upstate NY for fifty years and refuses to go back into a cold weather climate. ;( I love Vancouver!

        One last cry for gun carrying. About thirty years ago, my sister, living in California was working at a grocery store (in a smaller city) when she and her co-workers were robbed at gunpoint. They had four of the workers on the floor and had forced her into a bathroom – threatening to kill them all. She happened to keep her gun there…in her purse. At one point a gunman opened the door and she started shooting. She killed one, injured another. One got away. If she hadn’t had her gun five people would most likely have died. Though the town deemed her a hero, she lived with that nightmare for the rest of her life. She only did what she felt she had to do to survive.

  5. great post and thanks for the link. A lot of people in the U.S. assume servers and bartenders make minimum wage and tips are just extra money. As far as employers compensating an employee whose tips don’t meet minimum wage— in all the bars/restaurants I’ve worked that has never happened, and there have been plenty of slow nights/crappy tippers. When I looked into the matter I was told that the entire pay period was taken into consideration– so let’s say in two weeks I didn’t make minimum wage most nights but had one really good night– the tip money from the good night transfers over to all of the shitty nights and my paycheck is unaltered. Talking to others in the industry– this is common. But I still don’t own a gun… 🙂

    • Glad you liked the post, and you’re welcome for the link. 🙂

      I’m still trying to wrap my head around your wage.It’s like a bad dream, or nasty prank. My first job in high school (1974 -75) was a carhop at A&W. Yes – roller skates and all. I was paid $4.30 an hour, plus tips. That was almost 40 years ago!Working breakfast service at the Holiday Inn nearly 30 years ago I was paid $13.00 an hour plus full benefits and healthy tips.Hell – the kid washing dishes at the Hilton earns $17.00 an hour.

      Canada has something called the Labour Relations Board. If an employer even looks at you wrong, you can haul his ass to the mat – like magic the problem is solved, and boss-hole (so funny by the way) is kissing yours.

      Heck – screw finding a nice hotel lounge, knowing what I do now about your labour practices, I doubt my previous assumption of rainbows and sunshine applies. Pack your parka instead – hustle your ass up to Canada. Come on a student visa – experience a deck stacked in your favour for a change.

      The best idea just popped into my head! Work the Alaska cruise ships out of Seattle. Ridiculously lucrative as U.S. laws don’t apply and an opportunity to transfer over to Caribbean or Mediterranean sailings. I have friends who do this and if I wasn’t married I’d be on it like white on rice.

      Hugs 🙂

      • Completely agree about doing the cruise ship lines, although Caribbean isn’t the hottest set up these days. Too many problem ships. Plus, imagine all the contacts you establish while you are there..the future is ripe for the picking!

  6. You have noted that the U.S. is a strange country. we insist that “on paper” we are a “pay as you go” society. In fact, it is not so simple, but the claim must be upheld … why I do not know. On top of that we want to make sure that people who work full time can still be poor. It would make sense to me that people who work full time (that is people who are doing work meaningful to others) should at least qualify to be something other than poor. In the U.S. that makes me a socialist.

    • Pay as you go, my ass! Americans cringe at the mention of Socialist. Holy crap. Perish the thought a nation founded on freedom and separation of church and state should extend a hand to those less fortunate.

      One of my most admired Canadians is Tommy Douglas (responsible for Canada’s socialized health care)


      America is sliding down a slippery slope yet hasn’t a clue of the grave peril waiting at the bottom of the abyss.The country is bent out of shape by decades of greedy back room shenanigans. Fair wages would impact the bottom line, so tough luck poverty stricken America – you drew the short straw.

      Yikes! You push my rant button 🙂

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