The Cost of Cheap Fast Food: McDonald’s New York Employees Earn Poverty Wages
McDonald’s is one of the largest fast-food chains worldwide, generating billions of dollars every year with its food sales. Yet, the company’s vast workforce, spread across the globe, is largely low-paid and struggling to make ends meet. In the United States, this issue has been a topic of discussion for years. McDonald’s employees have been protesting and demanding an increase in wage pay to a livable wage for years. The company has been resistant to these demands, but a recent study reveals how little their New York employees earn.
Enormous disparities between corporate top executives’ salaries and the wages of front-line employees at fast-food establishments are nothing new. Yet, the stark realities are brought home vividly with the recently published wage analysis of McDonald’s employees in New York. The study showed that a McDonald’s worker in New York earns just $9.42 per hour on average, which is below the average for fast-food workers in New York City, $15 per hour, according to recent legislation passed in the city.
The analysis, which looked at wages and hours for a year, revealed several other shocking details. The average McDonald’s employee in New York works about 20.9 hours per week or less than two-thirds of what is standard full time work in the US. As a result, an average worker would earn $9,840 a year. This income is far below the federal poverty line of $12,490 per year for a single person or $25,750 for a family of four. As of July 2021, the federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2009, despite efforts to raise it.
The Cost of Cheap Labor
The study reveals that McDonald’s is paying its frontline workers poverty wages while making huge profits. Top executives in the company earn lavish salaries and bonuses running into millions, despite the pandemic plunge in sales, while their employees are dependant on state and federal assistance programs to make ends meet. In fact, one comparison reveals that a McDonald’s worker in New York would need to work more than three years and eight months to make what the CEO of the company makes in just an hour.
The study’s author commented that “This information should be eye-opening for consumers who regularly fuel McDonald’s profits with their patronage. While the company enjoys a healthy bottom line, its employees are susceptible to poverty, food insecurity, and a myriad of other social and economic problems.”
A Call for Change
If McDonald’s wanted to pay its workers a livable wage, it could. The company’s profits have been steadily increasing, and even amid the global pandemic, the company reported a net income of more than $4.7 billion in 2020. The company’s leadership should strive to value its frontline employees and pay them a living wage, commensurate with the company’s success.
Some states, like New York, have taken the initiative to increase minimum wage pay. In 2017, New York increased its minimum wage pay to $15 an hour, including for fast-food workers. But still, the battle for a livable wage continues nationwide. The fast-food industry is notorious for paying its workers poverty wages that are further exacerbated by unpredictable scheduling systems that make it difficult for workers to earn a decent living. A recent study found that employees in the fast-food industry are twice as likely to need public assistance programs, such as food stamps or Medicaid, than other workers.
In the face of such pressures, workers have taken to the streets to demand better pay and working conditions. Many employees have staged protests, walk-outs, and strikes, as well as forming unions, to fight for better wages and working conditions. The protests have been successful in some cases, like Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law, but significant progress towards a living wage in the fast-food industry has been slow.
The recent study on McDonald’s wage in New York is an eye-opener, highlighting how little frontline workers in the fast-food industry are paid. By paying poverty wages, McDonald’s is contributing to the social and economic problems of the very people it employs. As such, it is the responsibility of the company and the fast-food industry as a whole to ensure that its frontline workers are paid a living wage, with access to essential benefits, such as healthcare and paid time off. Only then can we truly say that the industry is providing fair work to everyone who chooses to work in it.