Everyone loves a bargain, but at what costs? As this week’s shocking New York Times’ exposé lays bare, pampering in the form of a cheap $10 manicure probably means the woman painting your nails is paid too little to afford safe housing. The snack from McDonalds’ dollar menu may satisfy a craving, but too often the person who cooked it can’t afford dinner for her kids.

If success relies on paying illegal wages, this isn’t capitalism, it’s greed, and it’s ruining our economy.

We fought to end sweatshops in 20th century America. But as we eagerly clutch the bargains surrounding us today, we have to acknowledge our complicity in resurrecting the modern-day sweatshop.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. The nail technicians slumping over our feet and hands often get sub-minimum wages. While we can sympathize with entrepreneurs cutting costs to compete in a glutted market, if business success relies on paying illegal wages, it’s time to close up shop. Period.

Even more egregious, perhaps, are exceedingly profitable corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonalds that also drive down wages, not because they can’t otherwise turn a profit, but simply because they can. While the executives and shareholders reap the rewards of those working hard on the front lines, those same workers must turn to public benefits to make ends meet. This isn’t capitalism, it’s greed, and it’s ruining our economy.

So what’s a consumer to do? Ask questions. Talk to workers and managers about compensation practices. If what you hear makes you want to take your business elsewhere, tell the managers so and demand change.

In tipped industries, consider basing gratuities on the quality and effort expended, rather than the prices of the services or meals provided. The woman doing your nails for $8 works as hard as the technician in the day spa providing the same service for $25. Why not tip accordingly, because if you can afford the $10 manicure, you can also afford a $4 tip instead of a $2 tip.

And demand action from elected leaders. That means raising the minimum wage and ending the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, which impoverishes millions of working women; updating overtime pay guarantees; giving workers a right to adequate and predictable work schedules; and providing meaningful enforcement resources for state and federal labor departments.

Everything has a price – even our bargains. As consumers, we have power to demand that our dollars support fair and decent jobs and wages. We should use it.

Read the original article in The New York Times.


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