The Company Store

Back in the old days, mining, steel, and lumber companies located in isolated regions, built company towns to provide housing and supplies for the large workforce needed. This was a source of company power and leverage over the workers. Often times the workers would pay rent to the company to live in the houses and would be given script in place of cash that was good only at the company store. This set up funneled money from the workers back to the employer.

Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ‘cuz I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store. – Sixteen Tons (American Folk Song)

Pullman Rail Car Exterior

By Unknown photographer – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Tam0031 using CommonsHelper. Original source: (CHS G1988.0426 Box 2, F.1), Public Domain,

One of the most famous company towns was Pullman, IL built south of Chicago to house the workers employed by Pullman Car Company and their families. The Pullman company built railroad cars and invented the sleeping car.

In late April 1880, George Pullman announced his plans to build a company town and factory. Pullman’s plan included an expectation that rent collected on the houses in the town would produce a 6 percent return on investment (ROI). However, it appears the ROI never exceeded 4 – 4½ %. – Wikipedia

The Pullman company town was completed in January of 1881 and included a library, theater, hotel, church, market, sewage farm, park, and many residential buildings. By all accounts, the housing was of high quality. Employees were required to live there and pay rent even though cheaper rent could be found outside of the town. 

Lyft Rents Cars to Drivers

Lyft has learned from history and has copied the company store idea used by mining, steel, and lumber companies and set up a vehicle lease program for their drivers that leaves many struggling to make ends meet. Drivers without a vehicle can arrange to rent a car weekly from Lyft. The vehicles are provided through Hertz or Enterprise.

A recent article from the Los Angeles Times described the downsides of the Lyft car rental program. It seems that the companies promise that drivers will earn enough for a comfortable living for drivers is often not true. One driver who worked in Las Vegas was happy with the program as he was able to give the 95 rides a week required for a bonus. Depending on where you live, getting enough rides can be difficult. You must give 20 rides a week to keep the car. Berry from Nashville was renting a vehicle for $240 a week and was not earning enough to pay rent. The weekly vehicle rent includes insurance. The company has too much power in this leveraged situation.

The Most Vulnerable

There are two points in our life cycle as humans when we are our most vulnerable, childhood and old age. At these critical points in our development, quality care is essential. Our children and elderly deserve the best care possible. Unfortunately, many of the people who care for others as CNA’s or childcare providers are poorly paid. In 2017 the median pay for CNA’s was $27,510 a year. Read more about the life of a CNA in our earlier blog post-CNA’s Make a Difference. Care for the elderly and disabled is big business. One relative was looking for a care center for her 94-year-old mother learned that it would be $6,000 a month!  It makes me wonder where all of the money goes because it is not being used to pay higher wages to the staff.

CNA Graphic

In some areas, it is next to impossible to find childcare and the people providing the care are struggling to survive on low wages. The average pay for childcare workers is around $10 an hour. Often they cannot afford daycare for their own children. Read more about the challenges faced by those looking for childcare and those providing it in our earlier blog bost – Childcare Challenges.

People Helping People

Childcare providers and CNA’s provide vital care to our most vulnerable members of society, but how can we expect them to stay in these jobs when the pay is so low? Such an important job with many responsibilities should pay better.

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