This Viral Meme Proves Why You Should Never Poverty-Shame

October 8th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Go to school, study hard, get a job, work your way up. Those are the fundamental steps to achieving the American Dream, we've been told. But things don't always work out that way. The fact of the matter is, a growing number of Americans are stuck in minimum-wage jobs, finding it difficult to advance in their careers.

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Yet people continue to poverty-shame, blaming those with the fewest resources for the country's systemic financial problems. Though hard work is certainly supposed to be rewarded in the U.S., upward mobility does not always pan out. What's more, minimum-wage workers form the backbone of the American labor force.

This meme highlights the unappreciated value of minimum-wage work.

Min wage

To be sure, the minimum-wage jobs that some associate with failure or poverty are also fundamental to the lives of Americans in all tax brackets. And looking down on any given laborer for the type of work they do is simply wrongheaded, based on unrealistic assumptions about equal opportunity. Not everyone can afford to go to college—and even if they could, we would still need minimum-wage work.

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Still, we shouldn't use the need for minimum-wage work to justify keeping the minimum wage low.

Due in part to economic factors such as the recession, the U.S. workforce has been experiencing a slowdown. Wage growth is weaker today than it was 20 years ago, when only one in five minimum-wage workers still earned the minimum wage after being employed for one year. "Today, that number is nearly 1 in 3," FiveThirtyEight reported.

"Even those who do get a raise often don’t get much of one: Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in 2013 were still earning within 10 percent of the minimum wage a year later, up from about half in the 1990s," Ben Casselman wrote. "And two-fifths of Americans earning the minimum wage in 2008 were still in near-minimum-wage jobs five years later, despite the economy steadily improving during much of that time."

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