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Taxpayers Subsidize Both Wealthy Fast-Food CEOs and Their Underpaid Employees

Three reports confirm what we’ve suspected about the fast-food industry — while corporations gobble up profits, their workers are forced into public assistance.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock

 

Bad enough that the empty calories of many a fast-food meal have all the nutritional value of a fingernail paring. Even worse, the vast profits this industry pulls in are lining the pockets of its CEOs while many of those who work in the kitchens and behind the counters are struggling to eke out a living and can’t afford a decent meal, much less a fast one.

Yes, you have heard this before. Over the last year or so, you’ve probably seen news coverage of the strikes and other job actions fast-food workers have taken against their employers. Maybe you’ve even read about the wage theft lawsuits that have been filed against McDonald’s and Taco Bell, or the recent settlements in New York State against McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza that have led to payments to employees of more than $2 million.

But, much in the way that Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century lays out the hard data backing up everything we’ve believed about the reality of vast income inequality in America, a trio of new reports confirms with solid statistics what we’ve suspected about the fast-food industry — that those in charge are gobbling up the profits voraciously while their workers are forced into public assistance. What’s more, our tax dollars are subsidizing both the fast-food poor who need the help and the fast-food rich who don’t.

First, a recent  data brief from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) notes, “Lower-wage industries accounted for 22 percent of job losses during the recession, but 44 percent of employment growth over the past four years. Today, lower-wage industries employ 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession.” In other words, as  The New York Times more succinctly put it, “The poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones.”

Michael Evangelist, author of the NELP report, told the Times, “Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end — the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal. If this is the reality — if these jobs are here to stay and are going to be making up a considerable part of the economy — the question is, how do we make them better?”

A study from the public policy and advocacy group Demos,  Fast Food Failure, confirms that, “The fast food industry is… one of the highest growth employers in the nation” but needs to address “imbalanced pay practices in order to mitigate the damaging effects of income inequality.”

The numbers are stunning. According to Demos, “In 2012, the compensation of fast food CEOs was more than 1,200 times the earnings of the average fast food worker. Proxy disclosures recently released by fast food companies reveal that the ratio remained above 1,000-to-1 in 2013.”

The average fast-food CEO made $23.8 million last year, four times what the average was in 2000, while fast-food workers “are the lowest paid in the economy. The average hourly wage of fast-food employees is $9.09, or less than $19,000 per year for a full-time worker, though most fast-food workers do not get full-time hours. Their wages have increased just 0.3 percent in real dollars since 2000.”

That $19,000 is below the “poverty threshold” for someone supporting a family of three, and on average, fast-food workers actually make less than $12,000 because they don’t get called into work for a full forty hours a week. The Demos report also cites numbers from a University of Illinois/University of California-Berkeley analysis that “87 percent of front-line fast food workers do not receive health benefits through their jobs. Since fast food employers do not pay for the critical needs of low-wage workers and their families, public programs foot the bill.

 
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