27 March 2019

The Danish burger flipper

A while ago I linked to the graphic above in one of the link round-ups.  From time to time it appears in posts on Tumblr, often with some commentary of which this is fairly typical, attributing the difference to stronger unions and better government regulations in Scandinavia.

Since then I have wondered whether it's really true, though.  There's a lot of misinformation on Tumblr (as on the internet generally), and anyone can throw together a striking graphic.  As I discussed briefly here (item 2), the US economy since the Reagan administration has changed drastically from how it was before, with 30 years of wage stagnation and people in jobs which would formerly have supported a solid standard of living now struggling to get by.  But could the relative position of American workers really be as bad as the graphic suggests?

This week I finally looked it up.  It is true.  According to Business Insider, fast-food workers in Denmark do make a minimum of $20 per hour, more than twice what Americans in the same job do.  The article points out that the cost of living in Denmark is 30% higher, but the effective difference is still enormous.

Is Denmark an outlier for some reason?  I was able to find a few other comparisons.  In New Zealand the minimum wage is equivalent to US$12.35, so fast-food workers make at least that much -- a lot less than in Denmark but a lot more than here.  The same is true of France (minimum wage about US$12.00) and Australia (US$14.50).  So Denmark is at one extreme of the scale, yes -- but the US is at the opposite extreme.  The push for a $15 minimum wage isn't radical at all.  Australia is already pretty close to that.

These higher wages don't make burgers unaffordable, by the way.  According to Business Insider, a Bic Mac in Denmark costs only 80ยข more than in the US.

It's not just fast-food workers, either.  For a semi-skilled (accounting) office job, I make somewhat less than that Danish burger flipper.  That's partly due to it being a temp job, but even a permanent job of that type would typically pay around $20 per hour, sometimes less (though medical insurance is included, a burden employers in other advanced countries don't need to bear).  If my current job goes permanent, and I finally make as much as the Danish burger flipper, I'll feel like I'm doing pretty well.

Then of course there are the differences we already know about, such as government-mandated minimum vacation and government-guaranteed health coverage, so workers in those countries aren't struggling to pay health premiums of hundreds of dollars a month out of those wages (though presumably their taxes are somewhat higher than ours).

Overall, I've long had the impression that ordinary non-rich Americans work harder and longer than their counterparts in other advanced countries, and get a lot less for it.  Well, all that wealth the upper 1% have accumulated during those 30 years of wage stagnation obviously had to come from somewhere.  One wonders how many Republican-voting wage-earners realize this.  More Americans seem to be becoming dimly aware that people in other advanced countries pay a lot less for health care (even when the tax burden is included), don't need to worry about being denied access to it for lack of insurance, and get overall better outcomes in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, and suchlike.  But by and large the nation's mentality seems to be stuck in the 1970s, convinced that the US system and way of life are still the envy of the world.  Many people actually take offense at any suggestion that some other country might be doing something better than we are or that we could learn from them.  This, in itself, is an alarming sign of a society in decline.


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Many people take offense as far as other countries that may be doing better than here ... ABSOLUTELY, I noticed this in the U.S., and some of the talk I heard, mostly from right sided folks, when bringing this up, they tend to quickly turn the tables on you and say ... we should be grateful, because we are BETTER than Uganda, or Haiti, Yemen, Mozambique or whatever dirt poor bottom country ... this is the crap you will get from these types. In other words (and I pointed this out time and again in some of my postings), they are making us continuously lower and lower standards and expectations, if you've noticed. Years back in the old dayz, we could actually compare ourselves to well developed countries as far as wages and quality of living, look what we compare ourselves to today, to show our greatness (sorry, but I've lost alot of respect for this country over the last 10 years too). Another issue, and I don't know how to fix it or the solution to any of this, but as soon as any wage goes up as far as minimal wages locally or federal, everything in that town will increase, so that the worker making minimal wage increase is even squeezed more, the extreme greed and nickel and diming people is at record levels that I seen in my life. This is what led me to believe and conclude in recent years, that the ONLY way, sadly, that we can fix some of this, is to become more of a socialized country, I'm NOT saying, as some republicans would try to paint me (I'm conservative myself, when it comes to economics), that we need to turn into a communist country (and that's what these bastards are going to do in the 2020 elections, they will paint the democrats that are really left, as taking us into socialism/ communism), I believe that a little more socialism, is healthy in a capitalism country, I feel we need more balance. I questioned this years back, when I was looking at GE company (America, at that) I believe, and the wage and benefit differences between what they paid in France (same company) compared to U.S., it was striking. I guy/ friend I've known for years, who is libertarian, asked me about a year ago ... what in Hell made me turn so far to left leaning progressive politics?, because he known me as a straight voting republican for many years (I first registered to vote when Nixon was President). I told him that so much I have to question, because, it's not working the way it is supposed to, and the republican agenda and party seems to have drastically changed on what they value ... that's just my view though. I'll shut the Hell up now.

27 March, 2019 07:03  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

The cost of living increases each year but the minimum wage pretty much stays the same. I remember my first job I was making $5.25 an hour and could barely pay my rent. If you're willing to work, you should be able to pay for a roof over your head AND food. You shouldn't have to choose. It's ridiculous and people wonder why there are so many people getting food stamps that are working. It's because even though they work full time they can't afford to buy food. This topic makes me madder than anything because I've seen it first hand. My daughter was making $10 an hour at her last job and didn't get the health insurance through her job because it would have cost her $150 a month. She barely had enough money to pay for rent, utilities and food. There was just no way. Ridiculous.

27 March, 2019 11:33  
Blogger jenny_o said...

Interesting analysis - and sad. People working full-time should be able to afford to live a decent life (and get health care when needed, too). This opinion is, of course, based on the premise that all work is valuable, a premise not shared by everyone.

All work, that is, except anything to do with the stock market. I draw the line at that :)

27 March, 2019 18:38  
Blogger Adam said...

I'd rather pay .80 more so they don't live in poverty.

28 March, 2019 06:37  
Blogger jono said...

Having close cousins in both Norway and Denmark I can also attest that they are better off. They are better educated, healthier, and less stressed out than we are by a very noticeable amount. It has been sad to watch the decline of this country these last few decades.

28 March, 2019 10:34  
Blogger Martha said...

"Many people actually take offense at any suggestion that some other country might be doing something better than we are or that we could learn from them." That's the problem. Such foolish pride. We should always keep an open mind and be willing to learn from other countries.

28 March, 2019 16:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: Exactly -- and then when anybody proposes some way of improving things here, they scream that it's socialism and will turn us into Venezuela -- as if it's unimaginable that it could turn us into western Europe or Canada, socialist countries which are much more comparable to us in terms of level of economic development.

Mary: That's it -- not only have wages been stagnant for decades, we seem to be actually losing ground in real terms. In Europe, someone in your daughter's position would have had guaranteed health coverage and a lot more assistance available to help her make it. They don't want great numbers of their people living in abject poverty.

Jenny: As I've often said, if capitalism rewarded people for the value of what they produce, medical researchers would be getting eight-figure salaries, and guys like Romney and Trump who just manipulate numbers to exploit the work of other people would be begging for spare change.

Adam: So would I, and so would a lot of people. They don't seem to get that.

Jono: Interesting -- that certainly matches the impressions I've gotten.

Martha: It's a foolish pride very similar to that of other great powers in decline, like Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and China for most of the modern period until 1912. They couldn't conceive that they were falling behind rival societies, despite all the evidence. I've already posted about how Trump could be hastening our own loss of leadership to western Europe and Japan (while everybody yammers about the "rise of China", another distraction from what's really happening, in my view). I will actually be surprised if the US is still the obvious leader of the democratic world 20 years from now.

28 March, 2019 23:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could not refrain from commenting. Very well written!

21 July, 2019 23:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Touche. Sound arguments. Keep up the amazing work.

20 October, 2019 23:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings! I've been following your weblog for some time now
and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a
shout out from Dallas Texas! Just wanted to say
keep up the excellent work!

07 November, 2019 11:04  

Post a Comment

<< Home