The Millennial Report: Talia Jane and Wage Inequality

By now, you’ve probably heard the infamous saga of Talia Jane, the (former) Yelp employee who was swiftly terminated just hours after publishing a scathing open letter to her CEO about her financial struggles.

Michael Cusanelli, Associate Editor

March 7, 2016

4 Min Read
The Millennial Report: Talia Jane and Wage Inequality

By now, you’ve probably heard the infamous saga of Talia Jane, the (former) Yelp employee who was swiftly terminated just hours after publishing a scathing open letter to her CEO about her financial struggles.

In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap: Jane is a 25-year old living on her own in San Francisco. Like many her age, she is struggling to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the country. In her letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, she detailed how she hoards free food from the office to save on groceries and sleeps without turning on her heater to save on her electric bill.

As a fellow millennial who struggles financially (as most of us do, I’m assuming) the story resonated with me very strongly. I know first hand how difficult it can be to establish yourself as a working adult fresh out of college. But after reading several reactions to Jane’s article, some of my empathy for her waned. It was replaced with a sense of shame that so many people my age expect to be treated with kid gloves despite their eagerness to accept the benefits of adulthood.

Before I go any further, let me say that I believe Jane makes several excellent points about the state of corporate America and the employees who work in it. Despite having good jobs, many workers, especially younger ones, struggle to pay their rent and afford things once considered extravagances but which have become necessities in the 21st century, such as Wi-Fi and mobile phones. Yes, there is a serious problem in the wage gap between the average worker and those lucky enough to have executive leadership roles, and yes, it does sound like Yelp could have spent more funds paying their employees rather than stocking the office cupboard. But Jane can’t lay all of the blame on her CEO without addressing her own failings—a topic she neglected to do throughout her letter.

As noted in many reactionary pieces, including a particularly virulent piece by Stephanie Williams, a freelance writer in her 20s, there were a number of things Jane could have done (other than call out her CEO on the Internet, that is) to help alleviate some of her financial stress and stretch her finances. One of the simplest solutions for her problems, as noted by Kyle Smith in The New York Post, would be to take on a roommate to cut down on her rent. Jane could have also placed more effort into finding side work, or spending her time applying for other jobs with higher salaries instead of complaining about her current financial situation. If all else failed, she could have taken her concerns to her manager and tried to reason with him/her before attacking the head of the company in an open letter.

One of the reason’s Jane’s story has sparked so much outrage among readers like Williams is because her situation, while relatable, isn’t unique in the grand scheme of “young adults trying to make it on their own in the city.” Aside from the countless TV shows and movies portraying how hard it can be to make your way in the world outside of the safety of your parents’ home or your college campus, we all know at least one person who experiences this kind of hardship every day. Maybe that person is you. And unlike Jane, the majority of us put our shoulders to the grindstone and work to improve our situation in whatever way we can.

However, it would be both unfair and close-minded to assume that hard work equals success; we all know that is not always the case. I’ve never seen this topic more eloquently addressed than in a piece by FlavorWire’s Tom Hawking, who perfectly sums up how the concept of “who you know, not what you know” dictates personal success more often than many of us would hope to believe.

So instead of focusing her anger at her CEO, perhaps Jane would have been wiser to bring attention to the disparity between the average cost of living in America versus what is considered to be a livable wage.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem. In fact, the topic of wage inequality has been a hot topic among all of the presidential hopefuls, especially Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders, who has largely campaigned for higher wages for American workers. Even Donald Trump has addressed the issue in detail, signaling that wage inequality is important to candidates on both sides of the aisle.

What we really need, more than anything, is to expand the nationwide dialog on the struggles that many Americans are facing, and how we can all work to make our lives easier and our jobs more financially rewarding. Perhaps an open letter or two on wage inequality would be a better avenue for discussion and help solve a major problem to boot.

The Millennial Report is a weekly column by associate editor Michael Cusanelli, who graduated from Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism in 2013. He is an avid gamer and movie buff who spends nearly as much time concocting the perfect mix tape as he does writing. You can find him on Twitter @MCusanelliSB.

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About the Author(s)

Michael  Cusanelli

Associate Editor, Penton Technology Group, Channel

Michael Cusanelli is the associate editor for Penton Technology’s channel properties, including The VAR Guy, MSPmentor and Talkin' Cloud. He has written articles and produced video for and is a graduate of Stony Brook University's School of Journalism in New York. In his spare time Michael likes to play video games, watch sci-fi movies and participate in all things nerdy. He can be reached at [email protected]


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