Flipping burgers or saving lives, a living wage is a must

We should be applauding NY’s decision to increase minimum wage, and fight for better compensation in our own industry

Let’s face it: Most EMS providers will never get rich doing this job. Indeed, most of us work two, three or more jobs to make a living. Most of us do it willingly, as we’re committed to this profession and love the gratification that we gain from the work. Heck, some of us continue to donate our time and money for the privilege of helping others.

It doesn’t make it right.

The cost of living

As paramedic Jens Rushing pointed out in his Facebook post, something’s gone terribly wrong when we fight over who should make less money than someone else. We should be applauding New York’s decision to increase the minimum wage for fast food workers. I’m no economist, but making $8.75 an hour - the current New York minimum wage - is not enough to live in New York City. In fact, a calculator hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates an adult living with one child must earn over $22 an hour to support themselves. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the same adult with one child must earn almost $28 an hour. Chicago? Over $23 an hour. 

Based on that, $15 an hour really isn’t very much. By the way, that doesn’t go into effect until 2021. I wonder what the living wage in New York City will be by then? 

Before you think fast food workers are a bunch of high schoolers and single young adults, take a look at who’s working behind the counter at your local fast food joint. I’m guessing many will be adults with degrees, older workers who aren’t able to find another job, and retirees who can’t afford to live on social security. Here’s one infographic showing a breakdown of fast food worker demographics; another report shows that many workers have attended college

Time to demand fair pay

Which brings me to where we stand in EMS. EMS providers train to provide the service; someone without that training would not be able to do the job. The education and training that advanced level providers have to undertake before being licensed is significant. While we can certainly argue over whether a college degree validates a higher, more appropriate wage level - which I believe it does - the bottom line is we’re not compensated enough to work at just one job, or stop working an incredible amount of overtime to make ends meet. Worse, unfair pay just drives people out of the industry. 

Of course, we don’t help our own cause by not demanding higher education for our providers, or providing a health care service for free. And beating up on another industry is no way to make friends and influence people. There’s lots of reasons why many of us don’t make fair pay. That doesn’t mean we can’t change it.

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