Good news on the employment front: if you’re willing to learn third-grade arithmetic, and have a working knowledge of your homeland’s most popular spoken language, you should be able to leap-frog over millions of America’s working knuckleheads and find a job.
If you are able to fill out a job application without misspelling your own name, or needing a dictionary to look up the word “compensation,” you could probably start work tomorrow.
These statements are based on my experience with shopping for groceries, eating in restaurants, buying gas, and other everyday transactions that put me face to face with some astoundingly dopey specimens working in the service industry.
There was a time when employees were rewarded for good performance, with promotions and raises and bonuses tied to their ability to do more than was expected of them. Nowadays, we expect less. Unions have secured guaranteed raises that are more tied to the phases of the moon than they are to job performance. Training new employees is time-consuming and expensive. So if you simply show up every day and avoid stabbing anyone to death, your job is probably secure.
Getting ahead is easier than ever. Workers who can think on their feet and show any kind of aptitude at their jobs are quickly snapped up by competing businesses willing to pay a premium for people who can tie their shoes without needing a YouTube instructional video and a paid day off.
Fast food joints are the worst, offering minimum wage for maximum density. The trend in fast food restaurants is not to make the employees smarter, but to adjust the machinery to compensate for dimmer bulbs. The kid who serves you your Breakfast McWad™ doesn’t punch in any numbers or even a name on his register keypad—he just touches a picture of a Breakfast McWad™. He doesn’t even have to know how to spell Breakfast McWad™. Employees don’t have to count; they don’t have to read.
And math? When was the last time somebody counted out your change to you? Again, the register does the work, not the kid. Want to blow somebody’s mind next time you order up a delicious Bacon Chickenator®? If the total comes to $7.66, give the kid a ten spot. And a penny.
I did just that at a truck stop on the way out of town last Friday. The girl behind the counter at the food cave pushed the button with a picture of a chicken on it, took my money and seized up. She looked at the penny lying on the ten dollar bill. Then she looked at me like I had just asked her to give me Euclid’s proof of the infinitude of primes.
I decided to wait, see if she could work it out. I’d just dropped sixty scoots to fill up my gas tank, and I was in the mood to teach somebody a lesson. She looked at the register. She looked at the money. She looked back at me. “What’s with the penny?”
“So I don’t get any pennies in my change. I don’t like pennies. Can I have my change please?” She’d already punched $10.00 into the register, so she was going to have to solve this mystery on her own. I knew this would be the most difficult moment of her entire shift, maybe her whole week. I waited.
She held the sawbuck and penny like it was a turd with a cherry on top. She puffed out an exasperated sigh and said, “Well, how much am I supposed to give you?” My faith in the generation that will inherit the earth slipped a couple of notches.
“Six thousand dollars.”
She narrowed her eyes at me like we were the only two people in an elevator and somebody farted and it wasn’t her. “Very funny. Loretta!” The girl at the next cash register finished doing what her cash register told her to and came over. They conferred. Travis, the assistant second shift manager trainee, emerged from the kitchen to help. Between the three of them, they were able to correctly ascertain that the girl owed me $2.35. I pocketed my change and grabbed the bag containing my Bacon Chickenator®, which by this time had gone cold.
Look, I know I shouldn’t expect teenagers in entry level jobs to engage the public beyond a store-issue smile and an insincere wish to enjoy your purchase, but why the hell not? Why have we as a fast-food gobbling society come to accept so little from people who are on the cusp of becoming fully functioning adults? We haven’t just lowered our standards, we’ve ditched them completely. With the national unemployment rate at its highest level in twenty years, it seems like employers should be taking advantage of the stiff competition for jobs, and set the bar a little higher. For crying out loud, at least teach your cashiers to be able to think outside the drawer.
A McJob that doesn’t require you to do math or read or solve any problem more complex than being able to tell a chicken from a cow isn’t preparing anybody for anything. Except maybe animal husbandry.