"From the biscuit line at Hardee's to the United States Senate."
That line from new Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst's victory speech on Nov. 4 so rankled the liberal press that a Washington Post reporter set out to prove that it's actually impossible to move up from the Hardee's biscuit line to any better job on the face of the earth.
Ernst had also mentioned her job at Hardee’s, where she had worked during high school to save money for college, in her response to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 20. “You just need the freedom to dream big and a whole lot of hard work,” Ernst said.
So reporter Annie Hull traveled all the way from Washington, D.C. to flyover country Creston, Iowa, 50 miles from Ernst's home town of Red Oak, interviewed some minimum-wage Hardee’s employees who turned out to have more problems than an algebra exam—so Ernst was obviously wrong. Also: Gee, it’s cold in Iowa during the middle of winter.
Here’s what Hull writes:
They had never thought of the biscuit shift as a parable. Hardee’s is a job, and paychecks come out every other Wednesday. Trina Starkey, who is 18, spends hers on rent and ramen noodles. Emily Abell, who is 20, buys diapers. Brandi, who is 31, drives around Creston with a bank envelope to pay her bills, including a stop at Leslie’s Dance Emporium to cover her daughter’s tumbling class.
Of the 17 employees at the Hardee’s in Creston, only two use the job to pay for college. “One day, I hope to teach biology or chemistry,” says Chrystal Patten, 19, who works the evening shift and attends the local community college. But she’s the exception. The rest are working to live. Almost all rely on some form of government assistance, such as food stamps or Medicaid. Some have made a career out of a low-wage job that two decades ago was considered temporary and transitional. Like Bobbie Lyons, the biscuit baker, who started at Hardee’s when her daughter was in the sixth grade; now, that daughter is 20 with her own job as a security guard.
OK—so let’s see what else is going on in the lives of these people:
Nearly all these women have kids—but there’s not a father to be seen in their children’s lives. Brandi has four children from past relationships, for example. She’s the only one of the bunch with an actual husband: former Hardee’s employee Luke, with two kids of his own and no current job (Luke, apparently, would rather dream about the diet-supplement business he intends to start, with a $1,000 stake that will presumably come from Brandi).
Emily had been thinking about college—but she never did enroll and now she’s got a baby. Trina has a history of meth problems, starting at age 15, when she was sent to a juvenile facility after a drug-fueled car-stealing spree. Her live-in boyfriend, Jeff, also a $7.50-an-hour Hardee’s employee, just blew $200 on a really cool tattoo. In fact, blowing money seems to be what it’s all about for those two. Here’s Jeff’s and Trina’s monthly budget:
Working part time at Hardee’s, they each earn between $140 and $170 a week. The plan is always to save money, and within five days the money is always gone. DVDs, cigarettes, HDMI cables, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, cherry Pepsi — Wal-Mart and Casey’s convenience store get most of their paycheck, while $250 goes for rent each month.
So–how are these Hardee’s employees on the biscuit line different from Joni Ernst? There’s, let’s see, saving for college, for starters. There’s also not having kids until after you get married. There’s not getting into drugs when you’re teen-ager. There’s planning a future for yourself instead of drifting from job to job–and then working toward that goal. But in the world of the Washington Post, Joni Ernst’s stint at Hardee’s as the first step on the road to the Senate was just a silly Republican “parable.”