But they’re also human — men and women, providers to their families — which makes their economic plight too real to ignore. No longer are they overwhelmingly teenagers or college students earning a few bucks in the afternoons or on weekends.
From the workers’ standpoint, it’s understandable that they’ve been staging protests around to country in an effort to publicize their situation. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which equates to an annual salary of about $15,000. A vast majority of fast-food workers fortunate enough to earn paychecks above minimum wage rarely receive enough to equal the median salary of the average worker in the United States.
The problem has many fathers: the fast-food industry was never intended to provide middle-class jobs for working families; franchisees want to keep wages low to protect their profit margins; fast-food corporations such as McDonald’s and Burger King don’t set wages for their franchisee-owned restaurants; and consumers want cheap fast food, not $10 Big Macs or $5 tacos.
We applaud President Obama for wanting to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, but we hold little confidence that fast-food workers’ protests will result in any substantive change. Their bargaining power, damaged by the lingering effects of the Great Recession and tepid growth in job creation, is weak, at best.
According to the Associated Press, nearly 70 percent of the jobs gained since the recession ended have been in low-paying industries such as fast food. Here in Alabama, particularly in Calhoun County — a haven for low-wage jobs in retail, fast food and restaurants — we plainly see the effects of having a glut of service-industry wages. They are jobs, but they aren’t worth what politicians claim when they tout their own job-growth record.
As for the hope that fast-food employees will see wage increases anytime soon, “There’s no room in the fast-food business model for substantially higher pay levels without raising prices for food,” Richard Adams, a former McDonald’s franchisee who now runs a fast-food consulting business, told the AP.
So think about this the next time you’re sitting in the drive-through during lunch. These are real-world problems that affect how Americans live.