A new study indicates that low wages are such a burden that fully half the fast food industry's workers must rely on public assistance programs just to get by. It's a pretty reasonable assertion at this point that the system is not working as intended.
The study, which comes from the UC-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, doesn't find fast food workers the only victims of low wages. In addition to the 52% of fast food workers on public assistance programs like Medicaid, child care subsidies, and food stamps (IRONY!) in the form of acronyms we're all familiar with by now like TANF, CHIP, and SNAP, 48% of home care workers, 46% of child care workers, and 25% of part-time college faculty are all on one government program or another. Though we've never seen the issue painted in such stark detail, we've heard about this before. Remember when McDonald's got caught urging its own employees to go on food stamps?* Turns out they had good reason to do so: McDonald's alone costs the federal government 1.2 billion a year in subsidies to low-wage workers.
Patricia Cohen covered the story in detail for the New York Times, and as she points out, a low minimum wage essentially amounts to a giveaway to anyone who employs low wage workers at the expense of taxpayers:
taxpayers are providing not only support to the poor but also, in effect, a huge subsidy for employers of low-wage workers, from giants like McDonald's and Walmart to mom-and-pop businesses.
It should go without saying that their reliance on these programs is in no way the fault of the working poor themselves; they're simply trying to survive in a country that increasingly gives less and less of a crap about their survival. This, ultimately, is one of the primary issues with an unlivable minimum wage, i.e. that people cannot live on it without significant outside help. Both sides of the political spectrum agree that the system is better overall when less people are on these programs—the difference lies in the fact that one side would like to fix the system so that less people have to rely on these programs to eat, while the other side's approach is, more or less, "fuck the meek."** As this study indicates, the sort of person who constantly complains about "entitlements" would be extremely well-served to protest the unethically low wages that necessitate their existence. Most, however, would probably argue against a raise in the minimum wage, and instead point out that maybe if SNAP started handing out tins of bootstrap polish rather than white bread, these moochers could wean themselves off the teat of the American taxpayer. I'd yawn if I wasn't too busy sighing.
There can be no justification for not providing a fair wage for fair work, and every time a story like this comes out, it becomes harder and harder to even fathom the arguments against raising the minimum wage significantly. This is especially true once one considers the fact that studies have previously indicated that the fast food industry could absorb a $15 minimum wage, and that fast food companies do just fine in other countries despite having to pay workers fair wages. The preponderance of evidence points to the inescapable fact that there exists no valid argument against raising the minimum wage.
As this shows us, unlivable wages like the current federal minimum aren't just blatantly unethical, they're bad business for American taxpayers. The fact that we needed a study to prove it—and that plutocrat apologists will no doubt conjure every fabrication and half-formed circular argument to discredit said study—is as depressing as it is unsurprising.
* Also important to remember: at the same time, McDonald's suggested its employees "break their food into smaller pieces to feel full," sell their possessions on eBay and Craigslist, and stop complaining because "complaining raises stress levels." None of those are made up; those are all things McDonald's actually suggested with a straight face.
** Saying this is definitely what Jesus would do.
Image via BlueSkyImage/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.