Low-Wage Jobs in the United States

Topic: Workforce
Words: 1514 Pages: 9


The employment sector of low-wage jobs is critical for the national economic growth since it creates opportunities for people with scarce education and lack of training. However, employers frequently provide unsanitary conditions and disrespectful attitudes toward workers. This issue affects millions of people, leading to economic complications and psychological problems. As mentioned by Barbara Ehrenreich, low-wage work is frequently harmful to one’s mental health, diminishing their sense of individuality and dignity. She expresses her surprise and disgust, uncovering the humiliating practices in the workplace and unjustified behavior toward employees. Ultimately, employers should improve the working conditions of low-wage jobs to attract new employees and support their mental health.

Problem Overview

As described by Barbara Ehrenreich, the state of low-wage jobs in America has been disastrous for decades. The reporters of the TIME periodical questioned young people leaving their jobs, finding that “ill-tempered patrons and extra-low wages” were the primary reasons for this trend (Bruner 49). Concerning the former, humiliating managerial practices in combination with unruly behavior from customers make evident why people are reluctant to work. These challenges inevitably lead to mental health problems as many low-wage jobs virtually dehumanize workers, stripping them of their individuality and dignity (Goldberg par. 2). It is a relevant problem that should be resolved on the national and organizational levels.

Regarding the latter, many employees might leave their jobs due to unjustifiable work compensation. Academic and publicist research proves that the minimum wage might surpass the acceptable minimum, depending on the state, base pay, and tipping culture (Goldberg par. 2; Lunsford et al., 929). At the same time, leaving the job holds a plethora of consequences, including the insecurity about being able to find another one, which makes other people search for additional jobs instead (Guendelsberger 190). Ultimately, the situation with low-wage work in America is disastrous, and employers need to reform it to attract new employees.


Effects on Mental Health

The first argument concerns the negative effects of low-wage jobs and associated challenges on workers’ mental health. Ehrenreich describes various challenges during her experience in low-wage jobs, including disrespectful attitudes from managers and unsanitary conditions in the workplace (Lunsford et al. 917). Emily Guendelsberger conducted a real-life experiment by working at a warehouse, call center, and fast-food restaurant to investigate the hardships of low-wage work firsthand. She describes her experience as the “inescapable chronic stress built into the way we work and live” (Guendelsberger 298). Unfortunately, it is the objective reality of the American system, and it has a substantial impact on the employees’ mental health. Umičević et al. (229) generally explain the increased stress exposure by insecurity regarding the duration of employment, higher competition, and lower benefits and social security levels due to the concealed employment relationships. Therefore, employers need to ensure better working conditions to support their employees’ mental health to address this issue.

Moreover, experts emphasize the negative impact on women mental health who work in low-wage jobs. The power dynamics between managers/customers and employees are particularly noticeable in this employment sector and present significant worries for women (Ditkowsky 70). Overall, employers display higher levels of inappropriate behavior because they can exploit workers to their benefit based on fear of losing their job. Despite the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, thousands of women experience sexual harassment and discrimination daily (Ditkowsky 73). In addition, extensive academic research demonstrates that low-wage female workers have even more anxiety reasons than the middle class since the law frequently ignores problems among low-wage workers (Ditkowsky 76). Most people underestimate the impact of power dynamics and dehumanization on mental health. Many women fear retaliation from managers and employers in case of agreement violation or if they try to protect their labor rights (Ditkowsky 100). Ultimately, it empowers the mentioned stress of the low-wage jobs, deteriorating workers’ mental health, and well-being, causing anxiety disorders and mental traumas due to the prolonged exposure to harassment and discrimination.

Economic Challenges

Besides mental health problems, the most challenging aspect of low-wage work is the lack of money. It becomes difficult to afford rent and food, especially considering the prices’ consistent growth (Lee 7). Evidently, the issue of housing and increasing prices is a nationwide problem that affects every citizen of the United States. However, its effect on low-wage workers is crucial since they have already been struggling with economic challenges.

If people have better work opportunities or can afford unemployment during the search, they will quit the current workplace. More than twelve million people resigned during the summer months of 2021, the highest number since the pre-pandemic situation (Bruner 49). Meanwhile, the investigative journalism by Ehrenreich and Guendelsberger transparently demonstrates that many other workers are on the verge of financial collapse. If the issue with mental health is not a primary concern in a current workplace, the lack of financial satisfaction might motivate workers to find second jobs or part-time jobs (Guendelsberger 190). Nevertheless, even the prolonged workday remains insufficient to become financially stable, which makes it a highly relevant social issue in the United States.

Tip Culture and Customer Behavior

Many managers exploit the labor policies and established traditions in business to their benefit, including tipping culture. As mentioned by Ehrenreich, the average wage for waitresses might account for approximately $5 per hour despite the higher minimum wage (Lunsford et al. 930). It occurs because of the established tipping culture, and when there are few customers, people working in the service industry might receive significantly less than the minimum wage (Lee 9). Moreover, it is challenging for most people to maintain the highest standards of service when they are mentally exhausted and receive $5 per hour, leading to conflicts with customers. Therefore, employers need to consider the peculiarities of the American tipping culture and ensure that workers receive sufficient compensation.


Work Accessibility

Unfortunately, many people believe that if low-wage jobs are accessible, providing people with unsanitary working conditions and unfair management practices is acceptable. It is particularly relevant regarding immigrants and guest workers since employers perceive them as an “easy way to fill ‘bad jobs’ that no U.S. workers want” (Lee 3). For example, the H-2A program regulates the wages for field and livestock employees based on the annual Farm Labor Survey under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Lee 10). However, the survey results cannot be considered precise due to the number of undocumented employees who tend to be less “capricious” about work conditions. At present, the research has transparently proved that a large number of undocumented guest workers are abused and exploited daily, and, unfortunately, society and governmental policies justify this fact (Lee 4). As a result, the accessibility of low-wage jobs has a negative effect on the working conditions in this employment sector. Therefore, this counterargument is invalid since it merely acts as an excuse to despise and discriminate against low-wage workers, providing no benefits to society or solutions to the relevant problem.

Wages and Employment Balance

The second counterargument is a valid reaction to the problem, implying that higher wages inevitably decrease employment rates. In other words, if the government increases the minimum wage, employers will not be able to pay sufficient compensation to the workers (“Effects of Increasing” 7). According to the research, if the minimum wage were to increase to $15, the national employment would lose approximately 1.3 million workers annually (“Effects of Increasing” 10). In this case, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that teenagers will dominate the low-wage sector, further preventing people with few opportunities from employment (“Effects of Increasing” 10). Therefore, a 200% increase in the minimum wage might have the opposite effect on low-wage workers, making their lives even more challenging.

While it is a valid counterargument and a natural consequence in economics, it might be productive to increase the minimum wage to a smaller extent. For instance, the CBO estimates that if the minimum wage were to grow to $10, it would have an insignificant effect on national employment but might help people struggling in low-wage jobs (“Effects of Increasing” 11). Furthermore, the problem of the minimum wage deviation does not affect the labor conditions in many jobs. In other words, the government should focus on strict employment regulations that would effectively ban employers from exploitation. This approach would minimize the strain on workers’ mental health and attract new employees to the low-wage employment sector. Ultimately, while the examined issue is a valid counterargument to the increase of the minimum wage, it should not prevent the government and organizations from improving labor conditions and mental care for workers.


The low-wage employment sector in the United States suffers from various problems, including exploitation of employees, unsanitary working conditions, and disrespect from society. Besides the economic challenges, many workers tend to have mental health problems after working in low-wage jobs. The current argumentative essay has demonstrated that it is essential to make a positive change by implementing better standards of working conditions. Ultimately, low-wage work is necessary to provide opportunities to people with little education or lack of training, but it should never be humiliating.

Works Cited

Bruner, Raisa. “They Quit. Now What?” Time, 2021, pp. 49-51.

Ditkowsky, Marissa. “#UsToo: The Disparate Impact of and Ineffective Response to Sexual Harassment of Low-Wage Workers.” UCLA Women’s Law Journal, vol. 26, no. 69, 2019, pp. 69-140.

“Effects of Increasing the Minimum Wage: A Raise Would Increase Incomes but Could Mean Job Losses.” Congressional Digest, vol. 100, 2021, pp. 7–11. EBSCOhost, Web.

Goldberg, Emma. “In a ‘Workers Economy,’ Who Really Holds the Cards?” The New York Times, Web.

Guendelsberger, Emily. On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane. Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Lee, Jennifer. “U.S. Workers Need Not Apply: Challenging Low-Wage Guest Worker Programs.” Stanford Law & Policy Review, vol. 28, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-59.

Lunsford, Andrea et al. Everyone’s an Author with Readings (Second Edition). W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Umičević, Anja, et al. “Precarious Work and Mental Health among Young Adults: A Vicious Circle?” Managing Global Transitions, vol. 19, no. 3, 2021, pp. 227-247.

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