More than Half of Fast Food Workers Rely on Welfare


JESSICA DESVARIEUX: Welcome to The Real News
Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. A new study reveals that the fast food industry
cost taxpayers $7 billion a year in public assistance because of low-wage workers. According
to Ken Jacobs of the University of California, Berkeley, which compiled the data, dependence
on public assistance is the rule rather than the exception for fast food jobs. Jack Temple joins us now to discuss all this.
Jack provides writing, research, and communications support to NELP’s minimum-wage campaign. Thanks for joining us, Jack. JACK TEMPLE: Thanks so much. DESVARIEUX: So let’s get right into the numbers.
What percentage of fast food workers rely on some form of public assistance? TEMPLE: Yeah. Well, this is the real shocking
finding that leads the report. So when you look at front-line fast food workers–the
cashiers, the cooks, all the restaurant workers that we think of as the sort of low-wage workers,
the front-line workers that make up these this industry–you find that over half, 52
percent, actually rely on some form of public assistance to support themselves or their
family. And so, as you mentioned in the opening and
as Ken Jacobs said in the Berkeley report, public assistance is part of the business
model for the fast food industry. It’s not an exception. It’s not something that only
a few workers need in order to make ends meet. It’s part and parcel of the industry itself.
And that’s a problem. It’s a symptom of the fact that the industry is basically built
on low-wage jobs that leave workers with no resources in order to afford basic necessities. DESVARIEUX: Jack, how many families actually
depend on fast food wage earner as their primary household income? TEMPLE: Yeah. So this is another important
statistic, because there’s a lot of myths about the fast food industry, in the sense–which
I think–I’m sure you’ve heard before is that the fast food industry is generally teenagers
or young workers, very few have kids, they’re generally working for side money. And even
if that was true, maybe, at one time, it’s certainly no longer the case today, and the
data really show this. You know, given the fact that over the past couple of decades
growing numbers of low-wage workers have–growing numbers of workers, actually, throughout the
economy have found themselves relying on low-wage work, we see older workers, more workers trying
to support children in these traditionally low-wage industries. And so for fast food,
for example, 70 percent of all fast food workers are over the age of 20. The median age in
fast food is almost 29 years old. So these are adult workers, not teen. And a third of
these adult workers are supporting children at home. And so these workers are on very
meager wages trying to support family. DESVARIEUX: So, as you said, a third of fast
food workers actually support a family. What other sort of findings or conceptions, preconceived
conceptions that we have about fast food workers that you found out through your research? TEMPLE: Well, I think what we’ve been learning,
you know, over the last year, as I’m sure you’ve followed, there have been growing numbers
of strikes and protests across the country. Most recently, around Labor Day there were
protests in 60 different cities across the country of fast food workers walking off the
job and demanding higher wages. And I think what we’ve learned throughout
this time is that the fast food industry, you know, the reality is very much different
than what you hear at the corporate level. For example, you hear corporations say that
the fast food industry is a launching pad, that workers may start out earning low-wages
but could move up to become managers or open their own franchise someday. And the reality
is very different. Managerial positions make up just 2 percent of the fast food industry.
Franchise owners make up just 1 percent of the fast food industry. And so by and large
it’s these front-line workers, the ones that are relying on public assistance in order
to make ends meet and support their families, that make up the basically over 90 percent
of the entire industry. It’s not an industry where you can start out, you know, flipping
burgers or making change at the cash register and have a plausible chance of owning your
own franchise one day or becoming the manager at a restaurant. And the other surprising part of the fast
food industry is that almost unlike any other industry, this is an industry where major
companies, major multinational chains that are driving the trends that we’re seeing across
the industry–. So it’s not small mom-and-pop shops that can’t afford higher wages. It’s
not small businesses that we often hear about when we talk about raising the minimum wage.
These are multinational companies like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King. And they’re highly profitable
companies. You know, McDonald’s alone made about five and a half billion dollars worth
of profits last year. The CEO, you know, made several millions in executive compensation.
And so this is a highly profitable industry, and it’s based on a business model of paying
poverty-level wages. DESVARIEUX: Wow. Really fascinating study.
And we really appreciate you being on the The Real News Network. TEMPLE: Thank you so much for your time. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on
The Real News Network.

Daniel Yohans

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