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A wage slave is a business slang term that describes someone who is completely dependent on wages earned from a job in order to secure and maintain the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. Typically, this individual has no other types of financial assets that are earning some sort of return that can be called upon in the event that there is an interruption in employment. One school of thought also holds that a true wage slave feels trapped into a particular job, holding the perception that he or she would be unable to secure another position that would pay as well or even better than the current position.
While many people utilize wages and salaries as their main means of income, the wage slave has no other source of financial resources to call upon in an emergency. There are no stock holdings to generate periodic dividends, nor certificates of deposit earning interest with a local financial institution. Often, the wage slave does not have any type of insurance benefits that help to offset lost wages in the event of an illness or a prolonged period of unemployment. Unless the individual remains employed and works daily, the flow of income stops and his or her ability to maintain the current level of lifestyle is adversely impacted.
Others define the modern wage slave in slightly more liberal terms. Here, the slave may have a modest savings account that earns a small amount of interest annually, or even a few shares of stock that generate some return now and then. In spite of these modest holdings, the individual is still considered a slave, since these other sources of income are not sufficient to replace the flow of income generated by a job. In this understanding, wage slavery only ends when the individual reaches a point where he or she receives regular income that is sufficient to maintain his or her lifestyle, independent of the livelihood provided by employment.
There are variations on the term that are used to describe particular types of wage slavery. Office employees who are highly dependent on their earnings are sometimes known as cubicle slaves. Shift workers in manufacturing plants are sometimes known as factory slaves. In most cases, the terms are used to identify a type of financial situation, and are not considered to be representative of the character or work ethic of the individual.
One other characteristic that is sometimes included in the description of a work slave is the sense that the individual is trapped in his or her job. Employers who use verbiage and actions to convey the message that the employee is lucky to have the job, and that no other employer would ever hire him or her, sometime nurture this feeling of entrapment. At other times, employees feel they are not capable of developing additional skills or talents that would allow them to command a position that is more lucrative or emotionally fulfilling, so they remain in the same position until circumstances force them to seek employment elsewhere.