In the comments section to Dom's post on America's contempt for low-wage workers, commenter Delishuss reminds us how physically and emotionally taxing jobs in the service industry are (on top of being low-paying and generally stressful):
I just got my first real entry-level job where I'm making over $15/hour in the last month, this after spending years working in retail sales (which I find comparable to food service in terms of employment practices). I spent a year after graduating cum laude looking for a job in my field, but my only employment options turned out to be retail, which I'd been working in since high school.
I got the job I have now by moving cross-country and smooth-talking my way into it, and probably also because my white privilege affords me access, not because of any qualifications. And the difference between the work I do as a desk jockey and the work I did in retail is staggering. People who think that retail and food service isn't a "real job" have no idea what they're talking about.
The physical strain of standing on my feet for eight hours a day is gone. The exhaustion that comes from having a schedule that shifts from week to week is gone. I can stay home if I'm sick instead of having to call every other employee to cover my shift or risk being disciplined. Hell, I could work from home and spare myself the 5-mile bike ride if I wanted to.
Then there's the mental stress of having to be "on" for eight hours. In service, you're expected to be friendly and helpful to some of the most entitled, snotty, condescending assholes that will ever cross your path. And when they insult you or or sexually harass you, you're expected to smile and deal without offending them.
There's no "work 50/play 10" mental breaks allowed. There's the extreme boredom that comes during the slow season, where the best you can hope for is menial tasks to occupy your time until a customer comes in. There's the manic hyperactivity that comes during the rushes, where you have to shift your attention to so many different places and move so fast that you become desperate for quiet and solitude.
And in corporate, bottom-of-the-food-chain service jobs, they wield your at-will employment over you like a hatchet waiting to drop. They constantly like to remind you how cheap and replaceable you are, yet they'll ride you for a full five-day workweek while still keeping your hours low enough that they don't have to shell out benefits.
They expect everything to be completed on their schedule, regardless of what's happening in your store. They measure your performance through statistics, not through actual customer service. They expect your unquestioning obedience to every asinine, top-down, constantly changing executive policy they hand down. They view you as a trouble maker if you suggest that maybe the people on the sales floor know their own business better than the people across the country in the corporate office. And they fuck with your hours at a whim, because the people in the corporate office don't give a shit about how their policies affect the lives of their employees.
All of this occurs before the stress that comes from the total lack of stability and from living paycheck to paycheck. I went through periods (recently) where I was choosing between rent and food. Rent won, and I'd go to work hungry. I haven't purchased new clothes in three years. And the only person I was taking care of in this situation was me, and I was making over $10/hour (albeit in one of the most expensive cities in the country). I can't imagine trying to look after a family on minimum wage.
The actual work of "skilled labor," that you supposedly need a degree for, is not actually more work than one does in service. It requires knowledge, sure, but that's usually gained through experience, which is true of service jobs as well. The trouble is, service knowledge is unique to the company you're with, which isn't transferable to other fields, and leaves you at a dead end.
I'm making almost $6/hour more than I was making on a management track in retail, to do a job with about a quarter of the stress. My company buys us lunch twice a week. I can show up late if I want to, as long as I put in eight hours. I'm allowed to prioritize my own projects. Instead of being punished when I screw up, I'm mentored. When I do good work, it's rewarded and acknowledged instead of ignored.
I once had a customer tell me I was too smart to be working in retail. Instead of saying something like, "Yeah, that's right," I told her the truth: "This was my only option." People like SB, who pulls out the r-word to describe food service workers, would fall to pieces if they had to get off their asses and deal with all of the additional competing stressors that come part and parcel with the work of service jobs. "Skilled jobs" are a cushy breeze in comparison to "unskilled jobs." And service workers who stay in their shit jobs because they know they have to take care of their families by any means necessary are stronger, harder workers than any of these jag-offs who insinuate that they must be mentally deficient to do such work.