When You Work Yourself to Death…


You may or may not heard about this incident in NJ, but there was a woman, not long ago, not too much older than myself, who died in her car while napping between shifts.

Discussion of this on Daily Kos; link here.

The comments I’ve read so far about this are varying from horror to victim-blaming. Yes, there are people out there who blame Fernandes’s death on her “poor life choices” – really? She chose this sort of a life? Good grief, that has to be the single most stupid thing I’ve heard. There’s no one on this green earth who will voluntarily choose to work three jobs, and in the end leave themselves so tired that they forget to turn off their own car and consequently die. No one chooses this.

But no, wait, someone does: employers. Employers, like Dunkin Donuts, who wouldn’t give Fernandes full-time hours at one location, and instead forced her to work three different locations for the same lousy minimum-wage pay. A minimum-wage pay that, according to some folks, we don’t need to raise because hey, someone can survive A-OK on $7.25/hr!

You’ll have to forgive my laughter; I simply cannot believe that someone can be so idiotic as to claim that a wage of $7.25 is survivable, especially with this cost of living. Myself being an accountant, I laugh all the harder because I’m very familiar with the costs of living in the NY-NJ-CT tristate area, and the fact that people claim that someone can survive in NJ for $7.25/hr is just plain out-and-out ludicrous to me. I have to laugh at this idiocy, because really, that’s all that it is.

The woman effectively, essentially, worked herself to death, and if you, my darling readers, believe that you’re that different from her, or that far behind the same fate, you’re kidding yourselves.

Yes, I’m saying it.

Unless you really do make enough money to where only a third of your paycheck goes to your rent or mortgage, you are not far behind Maria Fernandes in the ranks of people whose work basically works them to death.

Look at your schedules. Look at how much time you spend per day doing things in relation to work. Look at how much time it takes for you to get home. Look at the stress you have on you when you get home. Do you stop by the bar as soon as you leave work, just because you can’t take another minute of it and you’ll scream if you aren’t medicated/liquored up so you don’t care as much? Do you see your family/SO/friends/pets anywhere near as much as you should because you’re working all the time? How much time do you spend in your apartment? How much food in your fridge has to get thrown out because you’re not around long enough to cook a meal?

You’re fast on your way to ending up just like Maria Fernandes.

She was working three jobs and was paid so little at all of them that her apartment, which was $550/mo – a miracle in the tristate area – that she was behind even on that rent. Plus car payments. Car insurance. Basic food, hygiene items. And she couldn’t even get a night of sleep, because hey, someone had to work and pay the bills.

And yet, some brain-dead geniuses believe that she “made poor life choices”.

Choices? What choices did she have?! All she had was “survive or die”. And in the end, the stress of trying to survive so got to her worn out to the degree where she forgot to turn off her car.

And really, all Dunkin Donuts had to do to make her life a little easier was pay her just three more dollars per hour, on a full-time basis, at one location. They call her a model employee at all three of the establishments where she worked, but they refuse to name how much they were paying her. They could’ve paid her more; it’s not like they don’t make the money to do so.

But no, no, that eats into their profit margin, and in our “free market” (ha!) economy, we can’t have that!

Minimum wage came about as a result of relentless union strikes and lobbying about a hundred years ago, and for as long as the laws mandating a federal minimum wage existed, there have been attempts to repeal it. Even today. Why? Minimum wage is nothing more than the employer saying, “This is what the government forces us to pay, because we’d pay even less if we could”. Don’t roll your eyes, folks: it’s true. For those of y’all working the office jobs, compare your salaries to what the equivalent was about 10-15 years ago. You’ll find that the difference is actually very scant.

I have a Bachelor’s and 7 years in my work field. If I had a Bachelor’s with no experience, I’d get…the same $30,000/year that I actually got 7 years ago. If that were the case back in 2004, I’d still get the $30,000, but that 30K would actually maybe cover a studio in someone’s basement. Salaries hadn’t changed, but cost of living went up exponentially, because everyone with money in their pockets is lusting after more. Never mind that the ‘more’ comes on the backs of people like you, me, and Maria Fernandes.

San Jose increased its minimum wage to $15 and the growth of the city jumped. Why? Because people had more money to spend, which in turn created more revenue, which in turn encouraged employers to hire. It’s called a reinvestment cycle. If you so much as opened an eye in high-school economics, you’d probably know this.

But apparently, it’s a concept that eludes the general public, and it’s evidenced by the commentary on articles concerning Maria Fernandes.

“She was so hardworking!” – yeah, you don’t say! But apparently no one told her, or you, that working too hard can lead to an early death.

What no one tells you is that you can work your entire life through and you will find, when you’re finally retired, that you have spent your entire life at your job. Just because your job is in an office doesn’t mean that you won’t collapse at your desk one day because the stress short-circuited your body. You can afford your rent and cost of living, but you already know that your salary won’t go up anywhere near as fast as the cost of living. How long until you’ll take on a second job, or freelance on the side to keep bills paid up?

You’re only one step away from being Maria Fernandes. One lost job, one unpaid bill, one enormous unexpected expense – and you’re working two or more jobs and sleeping in your car or at your lunch break.

And if minimum wage was eliminated, how much do you think you, or anyone else, will be paid?

This is indentured servitude, folks. When your job barely covers your realistic living expenses, and you’re working more than you’re sleeping, I truly fail to see how it’s any different from indentured servitude, apart from the paycheck and the tax withholdings.

Being hardworking is no longer enough – it used to be, but it isn’t. Employers also need to be willing to pay – actually pay – a living wage. And apart from Costco and Trader Joe’s, I’ve seen next to no employer willing to do that.

People never, ever choose this sort of a living, and they certainly don’t choose the jobs they take. It’s not like there’s employers raining down offers on the people in need of work. But there is a paycheck, and if someone is desperate enough to try and make a living, they will take it. It’s not just the lack of jobs: it’s the fact that the pay is completely lousy for the jobs that are there. What does availability of work matter if nothing that’s available pays enough.

No one wants to admit that we are people and not robots, and the people who hate to admit that are usually the ones that got theirs already. We already see what the “I got mine, fuck everyone else” mentality gave us. Now we are also seeing that it costs lives as people all over try to get theirs too, only to find that the carrot on the proverbial stick is half of a baby carrot and barely gives you enough to stop the hunger pangs.

I never forgot what it’s like to choose between a phone bill and a full stomach. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of ramen noodles and cheap Chinese food in my life, either. And too many people forget their own beginnings once they have their ends.



2 thoughts on “When You Work Yourself to Death…

  1. So true, so true. A great piece. I get SSD due to my being disabled and even that isn’t enough to truly survive a month on if I wanted to get a place on my own. One bill(cause electric bills are ridiculous these days!) cuts almost half into the money I get per month and then groceries tend to be pricey. If I lived on my own and had to pay rent + bills + food + necessities. . . I couldn’t do it. Even where I live the price of one and two bedroom places are getting outrageous, and even if you can (barely) afford the rent the people renting to you want you to make double or triple that amount before you’re even applicable. It’s insane.

    Also, I think you lost part a thought here: “Being hardworking is no longer enough – it used to be, but it isn’t. Employers also need to be willing to pay – actually pay – a living wage. And apart from Costco and Trader Joe’s, I’ve seen”

    1. Ah, yes, that sentence got dropped off. Fixing it in a mo’.

      I’m making enough to survive on but ONLY if I cease paying student loans and my business expenses. Not gonna happen. And in NYC, survival is growing to be just absolutely abhorrent.

      It’s a matter of time until it becomes a ghost town, because no one can afford even the cheapest rents on the market. Salaries here have NOT risen nor changed to suit cost of living.

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