From Oxford in the south to Piedmont in the north, our county is eaten up with fast-food restaurants of various sizes, owners and menus. In parts of it — particularly along Alabama 21, which snakes its way through the county — burger joints, subway shops and chicken places are ubiquitous. So, too, are those whose earned income comes from fast-food shops.
That means a notable portion of the county’s workforce may live on minimum-wage salaries and work fewer than 40 hours a week, common practices in that industry.
On Tuesday, two new studies about the effect low wages among fast-food workers have on the U.S. economy were published. The headline: taxpayers fork out almost $7 billion annually to augment the salaries of fast-food workers.
That assistance comes in the form of earned income tax credits ($1.9 billion a year), food stamps ($1 billion a year) and Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program ($3.9 billion a year). The “core” worker in the fast-food industry is twice as likely to need public assistance than those in other jobs, according to the report from economists at the University of Illinois and the University of California at Berkeley.
The second report, by the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for workers, said the seven largest publicly traded fast-food companies earned a combined $7.4 billion in profits and gave their top executives $53 million in 2012.
Added together, these two reports create a toxic mixture of haves and have-nots. The have-nots work but receive little for it; the haves enjoy the fruits of their labor and others’, as well. And with so many adult Americans working in the fast-food industry’s lowest-paying jobs — positions historically dominated by high school and college students — the bottom line is our aforementioned headline: American taxpayers are paying for the fast-food industry’s decision to pay its workers menial wages.
“These statistics paint a picture of workers not being able to get their fair share of the largest, richest economy in the world,” Sylvia A. Allegretto, lead author of the report by the university economists, which was paid for by Fast Food Forward, a group supporting fast-food workers, told The Washington Post. “It is a good thing that we have these work supports, but they should be a last resort.”
President Obama listed increasing the federal minimum wage as one of his second-term goals; it’s hardly been mentioned amid the partisan turmoil in Washington. But without an increase in the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage, adult fast-food workers by and large have little hope of seeing a bump in their paychecks.
That means the $7 billion in taxpayer-funded assistance may not decrease anytime soon, either.