OPINION | A lesson at McDonald’s


“I work on the edge of town/
Cut your wheat down to the ground/
Twenty dollars the price they pay/It’s not much/
Works hard to find these days/ I clear the table and I go to bed/
Shut my eyes and rest my head/
Remembering things not long ago/ I miss it so.”
– Let it Rain, The James Curry Band

These song lyrics, by a local folk duo, capture the feelings of Americans who have lost their jobs since the great recession began in December 2007. Every time I listen to the song I cry because I am reminded of all the hardworking women who have lost their jobs. 

I have not lost my job, but there have been some sleepless nights for me. I live in fear of having my job eliminated. I’ve known too many families who are torn apart, homeless, living on handouts from food shelves because one or both parents have lost their job.

At my workplace, there have been layoffs and there will be more layoffs. I work hard, but will that be enough to save my job?

These are a hard times for an honest woman, even harder times if you are a woman of color or a single mother. I am saddened to hear the latest economic reports indicating that women are losing their jobs while overall unemployment held steady. The New York Times and National Women’s Law Center reported that while men are gaining jobs, it’s women who are losing them. And the women who are losing jobs are women of color and single mothers. July’s employment figures marks the highest unemployment rate for these two vulnerable groups since the recession began and the highest rate in over 25 years.

“California to Mexico/ Arizona to Idaho/ 

Working these dusty roads/ I felt the heat/

I felt the cold.”

The woman of color who serves me once a week at McDonald’s has had her life turned upside down because of the recession. She is annoyingly perky as she gets my cheeseburger and fries, and always tells me, “I love the color of your red lipstick.” Between our exchanges she even manages to hum show tunes. And after handing me my meal she explodes like a volcano, erupting, “Have great day!”

I appear rude. I want to tell her that I am really a friendly person who likes to laugh and smile, but McDonald’s brings out the worst in me.

The thought of having my job eliminated is bringing out the worst in me.

After serving me for several weeks, she said, “I’m really not that annoying.” I could feel my face turning red because I didn’t like her and she knew it. “I’m just really glad to be alive.”

“Why?” I replied.

“My husband and I lost everything in California. We both had great jobs, but we lost them, then we lost the house,” she said with a long sigh as though reliving those memories. “But at least we have each other,” she said with a smile.

“A final harvest will one day come and I will be home with the setting sun/
Holding you close once again until the end/
So let it rain.”

The McDonald’s lady’s story also reminded me that I have a wonderful husband and healthy beautiful baby. If my husband or I were laid off, we would survive because we have each other. There is really nothing I could do to prevent getting laid off. But I could stop worrying about it and start taking action like saving money. My husband and I decided to start a “layoff” fund in addition to our regular savings. I am sleeping a lot better these days.

Ka Vang was born in Laos and raised in St. Paul. She is a poet, playwright and community activist.