Sunday, March 16, 2014

Could You Live On A Fast Food Wage? Take The Test!

I'm (Not) Lovin It...
...And Neither Should You!

The original inspiration for this post came from surfing the web, and doing an image search for "Evil Ronald McDonald".  I laughed aloud at seeing how many images popped up, particularly of the pornographic variety...suffice to say, the distance between Ronald and Pennywise (above) is only a click or two apart.

That point aside, it's interesting to see the same tired stereotypes getting recycled in the current debate about raising the minimum wage. The Republicans, per usual, dredge up the old "pimply-faced-teens-working-for-Friday-night-pin-money" chestnut as their reason for not parting with any pennies for the cause...when they (and others like them) aren't spinning that other favorite yarn of theirs: "'s...a...job...killer."

Yes, plenty of jobs have gotten shot, stopped cold, frozen dead in their tracks -- the good paying ones, that is, as The New Yorker ("The Pay Is Too Damn Low," 8/12/13) points out ("five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage"). A generation ago, as books like Fast Food Nation observed, the industry resembled a portrait from Bugsy Malone...that of children pretending to be adults.

Today, however, the face of many fast food restaurants, discount retail stores and similar sorts of low-wage jobs is closer to that of Happy Days's jolly father figure, Howard Cunningham -- a senior citizen (remember, that's anybody 50 and up) -- and, often, a minority -- trying to stitch together several part-time jobs for the privilege of existing another month...watching whatever dreams that they formerly entertained for themselves dying one burger flip at a time, fizzling with each fry that pops in a deep fryer.

What's even more shocking, though, is how these corporate behemoths effectively force the public to subsidize their operations. How so?  Start with the National Employment Law Project's October 2013 data brief, "Super-Sizing Public Costs: How Low Wages at Top Fast-Food Chains Leave Taxpayers Footing The Bill."  As far as I'm concerned, the following paragraph on page 3 says it all:

"According to a study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, more than 
half (52 percent) of front-line fast-food workers must rely on at least one public assistance program to support their families. As a result, the fast-food-industry business model of low wages, non-existent benefits, and limited work hours costs taxpayers an average of nearly $7 billion every year." [Bold emphasis: yours truly]

Once you've digested that disconcerting little nugget, scroll down to the next page and study the outsized compensation packages that (quite naturally) only go to those topping the pyramid.  McDonalds CEO, Donald Thompson, far outpaces his rivals -- with an annual salary of $13.7 million, plus $5.5 billion in dividends and stock buybacks.

Indeed, there's no frown turning upside down on the face of this particular clown, especially when you see where his nearest rival (Burger King CEO Bernardo Hees) fares in those sweepstakes, at $6.4 billion and $14.4 million, respectively. By any standard, these are astonishing figures -- enough to make even Gilded Age robber barons like Jay Gould spin with sheer giddy jealousy in their graves.

What's even more interesting, if you read the UC Berkeley study (see below), is that working full-time in these types of jobs makes no real difference.  According to the study's executive summary, roughly half of families of fast food workers pulling down 40 or more hours per week were enrolled in public assistance programs.  A staggering 87 percent don't receive any benefits from their employers, forcing social programs like Medicare -- and, ultimately, the taxpayers -- to pick up the tab.

In recent years, I haven't found myself darkening The Clown's doorstep, let alone of those of his rivals, except to use the bathroom -- and for good reason, if these studies are any indication. It's easy to rationalize away these imbalances as the price of progress, the natural outcome of a frenzied commitment to globalism that cannot be postponed for a moment.

And then, I think of the people occupying these places, all wedged together like so many matchsticks behind the fryer -- young blacks, and the odd Hispanic...single women, struggling to wring every last drop from their twenties, before those good memories slip out the back door for good...right beside their middle-aged mothers and fathers, cousins, friends and relations, who've finally grubbed their way up the management ladder to an uncertain future...praying that those extra few pennies per hour will hold off real life just a bit longer.

You've probably seen similar faces behind the fast food counter in your town, toiling for the privilege of that $8.69 per median wage noted in the UC Berkeley study...pressing their noses to the grindstone, hoping against hope that this particular clock-punching gig might actually just work out...even as they just stand on their feet, getting a little bit older, and a little bit wearier, as the air continues to hiss out of their particular balloon.

Think about them, the next time you hear all those old, excuses for continuing that grimy, grasping, back-scratching realpolitik that makes no measurable difference in the average person's life -- the song and dance of backroom dealmaking, or "Kuhhandel" ("cattle trading"), as Weimar Republic-era politicians scornfully called it.

Take the Mother Jones wage calculator (below), and then, ask yourself: could you live on what The Clown pays?  If that happens to be your situation, how are you managing that feat? And if we're really so concerned about an economic recovery, shouldn't we worry about the quality of jobs, as well as the quantity?  --The Reckoner

Mother Jones (August 2013: "Could You Survive On Fast Food Wages? Try Our Calculator):

The National Employment Law Project (October 2013 Data Brief: "Super-Sizing Public Costs: How Low Wages at Top Fast-Food Chains Leave Taxpayers Footing The Bill

The New Yorker (August 2013: "The Pay Is Too Damn Low"):

UC Berkeley ("Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost Of Low-Wage Jobs In The Fast-Food Industry"):

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