Northwest Missourian Opinion

Chances are if someone has ever worked in fast food, retail or a similar customer service based industry, they have heard someone say something along the lines of, “When are you going to get a real job?”

What most people don’t seem to understand is that these jobs are real jobs. The simplest definition of a job is the performance of a service in exchange for money.

Employees of the fast food and retail industries do exactly that, and in some cases, much more, going out of their way to make sure people wandering into the store for a cheeseburger leave happier than they came. Yet, because they are not stuck in a cubicle typing out Excel sheets, they are seen — and treated — as lower on the societal totem pole.

In the United States alone, a little more than 5 million people in the workforce are employed by the customer service industry. This number includes sales representatives, waiters and waitresses, cashiers and food preparation and service workers.

That’s 5 million people working to literally serve the population. Yet many of these employees are paid minimum wage, which while it varies slightly from state to state, is $7.25 an hour in the United States.

Waiters and waitresses can be paid even less than this, making as little as $2.13 an hour and having to rely on tips to fill the gap. With the United States placing 17th in a list ranking 107 countries by cost of living, these employees live in a world that they quite literally cannot afford to live in.Out of 16,599 retail jobs reported as of January 18, 2019, only 1,202 were held by employees ages 16 to 19. The largest age group employed by the retail industry was employees age 25 to 34 years, with 3,871 people of this age range employed.

Adults fresh out of college are finding themselves in fast food and retail positions for as long as 10 years after they graduate. These are not teenagers wanting extra pocket money; these are full-fledged adults trying to make a living. Yet they still have to deal with that annoying question, “When are you going to get a real job?”

Fast food and retails jobs are just as “real” as any other occupation. The main differences are lower pay and more harassment than at other jobs. This does not make the employees there any less dignified. It’s time we start treating them as the hard-working humans they are, instead of like robots designed for abuse.

Everyone is familiar with the phrase “The customer is always right,” but more often than not, the customer is simply rude or even abusive.

A quick Google search of the phrase handling abusive customers turns up at least 10 pages of links to websites offering advice on how managers and their employees can attempt to safely handle rude, angry customers.

This is obviously a very common issue and even a daily struggle for people just trying to pay their bills. The first sign of verbal or physical abuse in any other industry would be quickly rectified, but in fast food and retail, it’s seen as another part of the job.

Employees are seemingly viewed as less than human because of where they work, and as a result, they are not treated with the respect they deserve.

Many people think that customer service doesn’t count as a real job because of the prevailing idea that these industries are reserved for teenagers wanting to make a little spending money. This isn’t the case.

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