Bad taste: living on a fast food wage

Aug 6, 2013 | Blogs

Written by Megan DeYoung

What can you buy for $9.30?  A sandwich and bottle of water at a bodega in New York City.  A cab ride from Wall Street to my office.  If you’re fortunate you can think of many other frivolous things you can do with $9.30.

Now what can you buy if you earn ONLY $9.30 AN HOUR?

Should I pay my electric bill, mail my rent check, or buy food?  Should I buy the generic medicine in the drug store or hope I get better without it?  Should I leave my 8-year old alone at home, lock the door, and go to work or beg a neighbor to let her sleep at her apartment?

If you have not had to ask yourself these questions you are lucky.  You are also in a shrinking group of Americans who are well enough off to not have to think about making trade-offs to fulfill basic needs.  But if you are an employee at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or any other number of fast-food restaurants in the United States you have asked yourself these questions more times than you can remember.

If you make $9.05 an hour (the median pay for fast-food workers), work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year (no vacation, no sick days) your annual income is $18,824.  The 2011 US poverty line, a threshold by which the US government uses to determine how many people live in poverty, isn’t far from that number.  If you are an individual, your poverty line is $11,702.  If you’re a household of two people (say a mother and one child), your poverty line is $14,657.  A family of four’s line is $23,021.

After years of not being able to make a living sufficient to supply basics to their families, fast-food workers are speaking out.  They are taking to the street to demand a living wage – $15 an hour – which is still only $31,200 a year.  These employees want to be self-sufficient, not having to rely on food stamps, urgent care facilities, and a myriad of other support services the government provides.  The US Service Employees International Union is supporting workers’ demands for not only a raise, but for the chance to form unions without intimidation by management.

Forget the luxury of taking a taxi instead of the bus or buying a latte on your way into work.  People working for a pittance work hard and want that work to enable them to take care of their families.  Is wanting to be self sufficient and provide a safe, warm, and hunger-free environment really too much to ask for?