Fast Food Workers: “We Can’t Survive on $7.25″

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Fast food workers in seven U.S. cities are walking off the job this week in what organizers say is the largest strike in the industry’s history.

The wave of protests began Monday in New York City, where workers earning as little as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour — in a town where the average rent is over $3,000 a month — demanded $15 per hour and the right to organize.

The average yearly salary of fast food workers in New York City is $11,000, according to protest organizers Fast Food Forward. The group Wider Opportunities for Women estimates that a single mother with two children needs a minimum of $6,376 per month to survive in the Big Apple.

As a result of this discrepancy, many fast food workers rely on government services like Medicaid and food stamps.

“The fact is, we are subsidizing their business model,” says Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and attended the rally in Manhattan to show support for the workers. Ellison says the minimum wage is kept down by lobbyists who spend industry money to buy favorable legislation. He points out that the minimum wage, in real dollars, is lower now than it was in 1968.

Fast food chains can afford to pay their workers more (despite an ad campaign launched in response to the protests suggesting otherwise). A group of economists in support of a $10.50 minimum wage say that McDonald’s could cover half the cost of such an increase by raising the cost of a Big Mac from $4.00 to $4.05.

Ellison, who supports increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation and executive pay, says that while “miracles happen,” with Congressional Republicans fighting against basics like food stamps and healthcare, consumers who support higher wages for fast food workers should put pressure on the industry by voting with their dollars.

“They need to say, if you’re not paying a livable wage, we’re not going in there,” he said.

Video producer: Lauren Feeney. Camera: Cameron Hickey.

Correction: An earlier version of this post included a link to a Huffington Post article claiming that McDonald’s could double the salaries of all employees by raising the cost of a Big Mac by 68 cents. That article was later debunked by The Columbia Journalism Review and retracted by The Huffington Post.

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  • Alan

    Can’t survive on $7.25? Should have thought about that when you dropped out of high school at 15…

  • Tim

    I would have to ask how much burger flippers should get paid? Entry level jobs are not necessarily there to provide a living, but as a place to start and climb further. Not every job can be expected to pay over $10.00 an hour. If your 45 and expecting to make a decent living at Burger King, you should probably re-evaluate your thought process.

  • Nancy

    Entry level workers need to pay rent, eat, and should have access to affordable medical care. Companies that pay low wages hurt ALL Americans by keeping hard working people on government programs to make ends meet. Why should tax payers subsidize costs for large corporations – especially when, as the article noted, a five cent increase in a sandwich would fund a living wage for these workers. Vote with your pocketbook – and buy your meals somewhere else.

  • Suzie

    “The minimum wage, in real dollars, is lower now than it was in 1968″. That is just absolutely, positively WRONG! Corporate profits are at sky high levels, and the minimum wage is at a level lower than it was in 1968. Unbelievable. It’s isn’t just fast food workers, it’s the same in retail too. If we don’t stand up for ourselves now, things are only going to get worse. I am with you, all minimum wage workers! We deserve more pay, especially now, because benefits have been drastically cut, so we are paying for more of our health care in premiums, and co-pays. Come on people, rise up, we need to shout, “I am mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore”!!!

  • Django

    Let’s all move to a Nordic country and beg to be allowed in!

  • over 45, and still working

    Nobody should go to a job that does not pay for a place to live, gas for the car, and food, even if on the lowest level. Period. If you can do the job that fills a need, and can settle for the ‘starting’ wage, pay the people! Profits won’t be affected much, and it doesn’t matter what age you are…if you need a job, minimum is slow suicide the way it is now. Disgusting in our country to see the lack of caring for our fellow person.

  • HiHopes

    NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT: To raise the wages (a
    thing that should be done) to a living wage without also providing an
    incentive/requirement (whatever) to continue using that labor will only
    escalate the rate at which human labor is replaced by robotics. While I
    agree with this need. We must lay claim to the impact our getting it can

  • cdegolier

    These types of jobs are starter jobs, for teens, college kids and for retirees to make extra money. If you are trying to raise a family on a minimum wage salary, somewhere your ambition and priorities got out of whack. These are unskilled jobs, and should not be treated like a profession. When I was making $7.25 (started at $5.25) I lived at home was able to pay for community college part-time and had a car payment. If you want a better living work for it. Demanding a 50% increase in salary so you don’t have to put any effort in is not going to make it better. If amnesty hits they won’t have to worry about demanding a double in wages, they won’t have a job.

  • Anonymous

    Tim, looking at the grammar in your comment, you might be need to get a fast food job until you have a better command of the english language. “If your 45 …” would read much better as “if you are 45 …” or “if you’re 45…” to get your point across.

    With corporations able to pay their CEOs millions and shareholders getting high dividend payments quarterly, I think companies need to be held accountable for forcing employees to take government subsidies to survive. If the government needs to increase the minimum wage to reduce the subsidies, so be it. Until the situation is corrected, the capitalist business model isn’t working the way should.

  • Suzie

    cdegolier: How can you say that these should just be starter jobs for people? There are plenty of middle-age people working at these jobs. Lots of educated people got laid off when the recession hit, and for many, it is a 2nd job, because their first one isn’t paying them near enough to make ends meet anymore. Most Americans I know are working much harder and longer than they should have to when corporate America has increased their wealth 273 percent in the last couple decades. It’s just a damn, sinful, greedy crime that this is going on in America. Get real!

  • Montaigne Lover

    You write: “If you are trying to raise a family on a minimum wage salary, somewhere your ambition and priorities got out of whack.”

    I respond: I love that line of justification. That way, you, and the rest of privileged white America, don’t have to take any responsibility for our society’s failure to educate a huge percentage of our citizenry.

  • Louis XXV de France

    Actually, there isn’t enough “career” jobs available anymore. Not enough by several million. For so many people, these “starter” jobs are the only thing one can get, period. Unlike anywhere else in the Western world, 25 million good-paying jobs were allowed to disappear in this country since the Reagan Revolution, and the nation has done absolutely nothing to replace them except for a constricted parceling from the low-end retail and service sectors, largely because those who needed access to those decent paying jobs, and formerly had them, have so little influence with policymakers. If such work was worth a certain standard of living 30 years ago, then it should track at the same attribute today. If it hasn’t, then income redistribution gushing upward to those closer to the pinnacle of our economic model has certainly been perpetrated, at the expense of a vibrant middle class that brought so much prosperity in the last century. This phenomenon was a deliberate choice made by the nation.

  • suzanne

    Most other countries are very picky about who is allowed to live there and work. I’ve checked. If your occupation is not needed in that country then to live there you must be self supporting and be able to show it. Nordic countries included.

  • trueblue30

    The POINT that person was trying to make is that the Nordic countries have a better social system than does the USA.
    That is what we need here. The key ingredient of capitalism is exploitation and until we get CORPORATE influence OUT of our government the USA is destined to FAST become a poverty stricken 3rd world nation.
    You need look no further than the city of Detroit to see the effects of unregulated capitalism.

  • Neil Forte

    There are many ways to disguise taxes minimum wage workers can’t survive on their wages so the taxpayers subsidies them with welfare for these rich corporations.Then the corporations blame the workers and call them takers

  • April

    Jobs are jobs – and even if you have a starter job you need to pay rent. Even with roommates there is no way you can afford to live on $11,000 a year… thats $916 a MONTH. For rent, transportation, food, god forbid you get sick or want to buy clothes or participate in life – all that costs money too.

  • Anonymous

    Tahoe – (aka – The Grammar Police) …

    I’d just like to point out that your sentence, “you might *be need* to get a fast food job until you have a better command of the english language ” doesn’t make much sense, either.

    You “might be need” … ?

    Dude – look in the mirror, before you start preaching to others.

  • John Bailo

    This is where liberalism is as much at fault as conservatism.

    The bent towards high density and urbanism exacerbates the already inflated costs of real estate. The question becomes, why does a minimum wage worker stay in New York City when you can buy homes for as little as $50,000 in places like Kansas!

    A $295 a month mortgage makes two minimum wage jobs almost middle class in that low cost real estate environment. I still support an increase to $15/hour. But I don’t want to see that increase eaten up by greedy Big City types.

    I tell these people…go to Zillow. Check out other areas of the country to live in. Don’t be forced into urban density by Liberals.

  • SocialJustice

    The hours that any adult human being puts in as work are the value. It doesn’t matter who is doing the work or how many years of education it took to do the work, or how physical and ‘non-intellectual’ the job. A job is work and work is putting oneself aside in order to bring something else about. Our society -all societies throughout history- is jam packed with jobs that are physically demanding but do not require additional training beyond that training done on the job. There are many reasons why parents, people with disabilities, people in between jobs, artists, people with more than one job, and people who work well in service jobs take those positions. They are not jobs that are rewarding in themselves for the most part, although most of them are part of a larger service which the public appreciates. The hours put in by each person are hours taken out of a life so that our society will function as it’s presently designed. We may quarrel with the shape of society, but that’s another issue.

  • SocialJustice

    Shareholders apparently drive the corporate need to constantly raise profits which lower wages allow. How many of you who are arguing for higher wages have a little money invested in shares that only benefit you by making slaves of the workers? This process is going on in ALL jobs, not just in the service industry. The entire capitalist structure is at fault here.

  • Arianna Aguilar

    back then college tuition, even for community colleges, was far less expensive and 5.25 was probably more back then than 7.25 is now. And I’m not even getting to the root issue with your statements and/or with the capitalist system itself.

  • Arianna Aguilar

    What you are saying is very, very simplistic and also doesn’t look at the root of the problem at all. I appreciate that you support the 15$ an hour but first of all, it’s hard for a poor family to move and many times those low-cost zones have even less jobs. But more importantly, it ignores that the root problem is capitalism and people not having control over their own lives nor the power to make the decisions that affect their lives, and then us collectively not being able to do what is best for our survival. If people did have control over their lives and over the things that affect them as both individuals and as members of humanity, then everyone would be moving to high-rises and low-density areas would be abandoned because they can’t maintain the environmental conditions that benefit our survival.

  • Arianna Aguilar

    But I do agree that both liberalism and conservatism are failures -or where never really even meant to be anything good anyway.

  • Amy

    I do not believe I have the “right” to be paid enough to be able to live in NYC.
    Would I like to live in NYC? Sure. Am I realistic about whether I could afford to live there? Absolutely. I couldn’t afford it, so I don’t live there. If I did live there, I would expect to earn well over minimum wage because I have marketable skills and 28 years’ experience in my field. But I doubt I could afford to live in the city even so. I live in Charlottesville, VA, a small city in a mid-Atlantic state (albeit one that Frommer’s ranked “best place to live” in 2004). The streets are safe, the schools are decent, the air is clean, and the crime rate is low. Our city is being proactive about creating affordable housing. It does not cost a mother with two children $6,376 a month to live in my city–not by a long shot. And we’re friendly! Come on down!

  • Guest

    So don’t live in the most expensive city in the world!

    You can buy a home in Oklahoma for $50,000.

    One or two minimum wage salaries would make you middle class there.

  • John Bailo

    Actually states such as Oklahoma and Texas with lower cost housing also have lower taxes and lower unemployment!

    It’s usually easier for a poor family to move because they have less possessions.

    Hey, I’ve moved several times, to different states for better economic opportunity. Sometimes it drained my savings and I started from scratch in the new place with no savings.

    But it’s worth the jump!

    And since you’re talking about Government assistance, how about a program to help them move? Oh really? What’s that? Can’t be done?

    Sure, because current Government policy is to trap people inside of dense cities to boost the voter roles for Democrats. That is what has been referred to as the Democrat Plantation.

  • John Bailo

    Liberal: Move to a cheaper place?! That’s too simplistic!!

  • James Mandolare

    I worked at McDonalds for six and a half years. I started at $7.15/hr. and finished with $7.65/hr. The price of gas went skyward and the price of food too so my rent went up. I have my degree in Art Education and was an inspired teacher for many years until the conservative crusade against the intelligent reduced me to flipping burgers. It was OK though, I loved the people I worked with and I was able to just get by part time while I did my writing poetry and novels, singing folk music and painting. But when the rent went up to $500/month I found myself homeless and lost my job. Greed and personal bias and a crusade against the progressive human spirit by the Corporate State encourages this terrible oppression of the masses of good hard working poor people. Without HEAP GRANTS, FOOD STAMPS, and TEMPORARY ASSISTANCE, and the generosity of my family and friends; I’d be dead. God bless the tax payers (I was one for thirty years!) If McDonalds was a compassionate business who cared about their workers and they offered me $10/hr I’d be happy to get it! I like the simple life. I wish the rich and powerful would look around and find compassion for the hard working poor and powerless. Bottom Line: we are suffering lives of quiet desperation in the richest country in history! This is the crime of TWO centuries: Gangster Capitalism! (P.S. Sorry if my punctuation doesn’t meet your rigorous standards!)

  • Erich Walther

    The word is INEQUITY.

    This is the ROOT of almost all social problems. When people FEEL the inequity of their situation, they WILL rebel. It is human nature to rebel against being treated unfairly.

    Sweden has striven hard to reduce the Inequity between the upper and lower social classes in their country and are not reportedly one of the best countries to live in, because the desparity between the rich and the poor has been drastically reduced, by raising the quality of life for the poor, and increasing the taxes for the wealthy. Putting owness to maintain the country on the rich, rather than the poor demographic.

    This is a model which should be adapted for all nations.

  • Jan

    I don’t believe Liberalism and Capitalism are failures. I believe our Country was to be a mix of Both and not as extreme as it has been in the last 5 years! I believe that the U.S. was to be a melting pot of all kinds of people with one common belief in Freedom of Religion(Beliefs), Freedom of expression (Not just Freedom of speech) and Equality for all. But also a Place where if you can dream it- you can BE it! Where anyone can be prosperous if they work hard enough and no one is keeping you down-trodden. It did start out with indentured servants but they paid the price for their descendants! Let’s not go backward!!!

  • Jan

    I agree but want to stress that we need Capitalism but not exclusively, and not over all other forms of Government. We also need to gt rid of shady practices in governing from the sidelines like ALEC and Citizens United are doing! Let’s take it back to the PEOPLE!!!

  • cindy

    You seem to think it is easy to simply move to another place. It isn’t. It takes capital to move yourself and your possessions (even if you don’t have many,) it takes capital to get a new place to live, it takes capital to live while looking for another job, which in this economy isn’t guaranteed in a new place where you have no contacts or support structure of family an friends.

  • Mile Hi Dave

    It used to be that fast food jobs were for kids. As technology advances and robotics replaces good manufacturing jobs, we are seeing more and more folks having to get by on jobs like this. Look at Detroit for a good example of this. In it’s heyday the automobile manufacturers hired thousands and lots those jobs are now gone, replaced by automation. I use this as an example, but you get what I mean.

  • Frank MiLler

    “a single mother with two children needs a minimum of $6,376 per month to survive in the Big Apple.” Is Mcdonalds supposed to subsidize uneducated women that make lousy choices about men.

  • Henry Arias

    get educated then if you dont like making minimum wage. learn a skill instead of being lazy. poor people are lazy and are content working these god awful jobs have some dignity and try to pursue a career,

  • larry

    Those jobs were lost to China, Japan & Europe not machines. Americans just find the need to buy imports, of every thing!

  • larry

    Sounds like you need a UNION!

  • larry

    I’m Danish, Irish, English, American. I can move to those country’s, right? LOL

  • larry

    The Muslims are going to fix up “DETROIT.”

  • larry

    It would help if we bought American made products! Some other country’s won’t even let us sell blue jeans. But we go out and can’t even find American made. Our large corp. send all the work over seas. This takes every type of job away! then those people have to work at low paying jobs and want the same wages they had before.
    What we should do is stop waiting in line for every electronic devices , keep them for 5 years or until they move all kind of jobs back to the USA! Like that’s going to happen…LOL!

  • larry

    With the cost of everything these days $10.00 is nothing, people have to live!

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    Hey Everyone,

    Please avoid personal attacks and hate speech. If you choose not to follow our comment policy you will be unable to participate in our community.

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  • Boilerette

    Fast food isn’t for the parent with kids to support. If you are good at food service and want more money, go get a waiter or waitress job and make 3x that or more. If we pay you a higher wage for fast food, then those prices go up, and it starts to be comparable to sit down restaurants.

  • SVJ

    A nickel more for a Big Mac does not make it comparable to a sit-down restaurant.

  • Morriss

    “The group Wider Opportunities for Women estimates that a single mother with two children needs a minimum of $6,376 per month to survive in the Big Apple.” That’s nearly $100K per year before taxes. That translates to nearly $50 PER HOUR!

  • James Mandolare

    I’ve heard the comment “Get a better job!” but there are millions of people who can’t get a better job! I worked at MCD for six years and my pay went from $7.15-$7.65 per hour! After SIX years! I was a teacher but I wasn’t conservative enough. I couldn’t get a decent job without a urine test which I refuse to give because I feel it is a draconian intrusion by the bosses and the corporate state to tell me I can’t smoke my sacred herb on my own time. So I worked hard at MCD and I loved my co-workers (mostly great women) and tried to make it on very little until the rent went up with the price of gas and food and everything making profit for the owners and bosses while making me homeless. Land of the brave and free? More like Land of the rich and the slave!

  • Anonymous


  • liketalk

    Not necessarily. You can be college educated, have an associates degree and still make such little money that you will qualify for free lunches for your child and food stamps. So disappointing.

  • Anonymous

    Cindy, so true! I live in SF, where people with relatively high middle-class incomes hear this all the time. The most minimal investigation shows that while a $50K salary will get you more in Oklahoma, the $50K nonprofit management job or junior marketing job or upscale restaurant job you might hold in SF doesn’t exist in Oklahoma. And good luck being the person who gets one of the many fewer well-paying jobs when you are a “carpetbagger” from California with no friends or track record. Furthermore, if your aging parents live in California, are you really going to leave them there and go live in Oklahoma? If you do, how much will you end up paying for plane fare and somebody to go fix their roof and so on?

  • Anonymous

    What you describe reflects a model of the job market that just doesn’t apply anymore. I agree: people should do the best they can to improve their education, skills, and general resourcefulness to get better jobs. But there is no such thing as “entry-level.” In 1975, maybe a kid could work at McDonald’s to learn habits like “show up on time,” “be polite to the boss,” etc., parlay that into an office job answering phones, and then use that reception job to move up to a junior analyst position, etc. Today, those things are on TOTALLY separate tracks.

    The McDonald’s worker – of any age – can’t parlay that into anything. That means it needs to pay MORE not less. Because the experience itself counts for nothing in the marketplace, all such a job can do is support a person while they go to school (college or trade) and look for other jobs. If you work three minimum wage jobs with inflexible and unpredictable schedules to barely pay rent, you cannot do what it takes to move up, no matter what your “thought process.”

  • lala

    folks with degrees are America’s new indentured servants… read sir.

  • Anonymous

    If you don’t want a job then don’t pay ’em for something they can’t produce! Early bird catches the worm! I went and did what ever it took to produce and provide for my family why can’t you?

  • Anonymous

    As the Pope before last said, the real evil is not so much that a few have so much but that so many have so little. When so few can buy our government as massive subsidies and give aways to carbon industry and socialize the vast damage then the poor pay twice. They pay in taxes and they pay in medical to subsidies the harm such as the KeystoneXL where the lobbies have written their own check by corrupting our State Department. As W Buffet has said there is war between the super rich and the poor and the super rich won a long time ago. Wether it is ALEC or Citizens United or bribes like J Abramhoff has revealed the government has been tilted so far that the poor are forced to run up hill while the rich speculate on every new gimmick to compound their money. As an investor in ethical and socially valuable companies it seems time people invest in people not corporations unless they serve their stakeholders well. We can have better burgers and better paid people and the industry could do it voluntarily or yet again fight our government which is ourselves to deny another harm. And when an owner or shareholder can make a better burger than the ones hired they can justifiably say he deserves more for that burger. Still, it is ok for him to be as rich as he can just not on the back of others. And the threats of layoff or fireing is old too.

  • LostInUnderland

    Why do you believe poor people are lazy?

  • LostInUnderland

    But if a person spends 40 hours a week working, then that person should be able to afford minimal food, clothing, and shelter and the right not to be called “lazy”.

  • Momo

    So all the poor are lazy, huh? And if they all go get high paying jobs, who will be left to hand you your burger, anyway? Does that mean you’ll have to cook for yourself? What will you do then?

  • Momo


  • Momo

    It’s 2015, not 1972. Please join us in the present time.