For years, working at a fast food restaurant was a rite of passage. It was a normal thing to see teenagers running your local McDonald’s and serving French fries with a smile. But times changed, and the kids that usually took these positions decided internships or retail jobs were more for them.
As Eric Schlosser notes in his book “Fast Food Nation,” the teenagers who stopped applying for jobs were replaced with other vulnerable members of society: the uneducated, immigrants who spoke English as a second language and the handicapped. The demographics of fast food workers have changed, but the bottom line has not: hire those who have fewer better options.
Fast forward to today. It’s 2013, and college education is considered a requirement for respectable employment. People are spending thousands of dollars to get said education, but the jobs they might have been qualified to take are no longer there. Although the economy is generally improving, underemployment remains rampant and an entirely new type of workforce has entered the fast-food scene: college grads and adults with families.
This summer, a series of protests broke out in regards to the minimum wage and the fast food industry. Starting in New York City, the Fast Food Forward protests quickly spread across the country as employees banded together to seek higher wages.
Wealth disparity in the U.S. can no longer be avoided. We saw a lot of these issues being championed during the Occupy Wall Street movement; however, the Fast Food Forward protests are a bit different, and their message is very clear: Raise the minimum wage, or we won’t flip the Whoppers.
In 2012, McDonald’s reported $5.5 billion in profit, $27 billion in revenue and $35 billion in assets. McDonald’s is easily the top dog in the industry.
Now, let’s look at the McDonald’s worker. A personal budget worksheet laid out by McDonald’s and Visa suggests that a full-time McDonald’s employee should also hold a second job — and that’s if they want to live the unrealistic life that McDonald’s has come up for them. In order to make that amount of money from both jobs, one would have to work 65 or more hours.
Professor John Mason of William Paterson University says the “wage is basically a starvation wage” and that the current minimum wage “effectively places (the employee) 30 percent below the poverty line.”
It seems odd to me that in a state where hard work is valued over almost everything, these members of the fast food workforce are not being viewed as heroes of the American worker. In fact, the usual soundbite implies that fast food workers are in this situation because they do not work hard.
The minimum wage has not increased along with rising inflation and definitely has not been increasing with rising productivity. The last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage was in 2009. There have been suggestions of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by July 2014, but we have yet to see any of these suggestions make any progress in Congress.
With wealth disparity increasing every year, it is absolutely vital that the middle and working classes not be complacent when facing economic adversity. Something has to change, and these protesters are trying to make it happen.
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