Class Warfare Blog

December 11, 2013

Are We Becoming the 1%’s Servants?

Here is a link to an eye-opening article by economist David Cay Johnson “Is Service Work Today Worse Than Being A Household Servant?

As a teaser here is an interesting comparison from the piece comparing a live-in cook with a fast-food cook:

“Consider the family cook. Many family cooks now work at family restaurants and fast-food joints. This means that instead of having to meet a weekly payroll, families can hire a cook only as needed.

“A household cook typically earned $10 a week in 1910, century-old books on the etiquette of hiring servants show. That is $235 per week in today’s money, while the federal minimum wage for 40 hours comes to $290 a week.

“At first blush, that looks like a real raise of $55 a week, or nearly a 25 percent increase in pay. But in fact, the 2013 minimum-wage cook is much worse off than the 1910 cook. Here’s why:
· The 1910 cook earned tax-free pay, while 2013 cook pays 7.65 percent of his or her income in Social Security taxes as well as income taxes on more than a third of his pay, assuming full-time work every week of the year. For a single person, that’s about $29 of that $55 raise deducted for taxes.
· Unless he can walk to work, today’s outsourced family cook must cover commuting costs. A monthly transit pass costs $75 in Los Angeles, $95 in Atlanta and $122 in New York City, so bus fare alone runs $17 to $27 a week, eating up a third to almost half of the seeming increase in pay, making the apparent raise pretty much vanish.
· The 1910 cook got room and board, while the 2013 cook must provide his or her own living space and food.”

No matter how many people in the family, a fast food worker’s room and board is a sizable cost per month. The conclusion: many live-in servants in the Gilded Age were way better off than today’s outsourced servants, er, workers.



  1. The similarities between pre-capitalist feudalism and today’s economic condition are well defined here in this joint piece with Yves Smith and Ian Welsh


    Comment by lbwoodgate — December 11, 2013 @ 8:31 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the link. I am slowly working my way through “Econned” by “Yves” and subscribe to the site’s newsletter but I missed that one. Capitalism without political brakes is quite frightening and I am warming up a great deal to European style socialism, shocking even me.


      Comment by stephenpruis — December 11, 2013 @ 8:57 am | Reply

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