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Bad taste: living on a fast food wage

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?

Comment (1)

  1. Pat says:

    Given the annual profits of the Walmarts of this country, the paucity of benefits offered and the bottomless drain on state and Federal resources to care for the working poor, such a movement is long overdue. Hopefully our reasonable representatives is “Washington will consider the long-term economic benefit rather than focusing on the so-called loss of profits in these industries

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