Published time: October 16, 2013 03:28
Reuters / Vincent Kessler
Over half of US workers employed by fast food restaurants rely on public assistance because their meager paychecks do not cover basic needs. The aid costs American taxpayers billions of dollars each year, according to a new report.
The average American fast food worker earns $8.69 an hour and
regularly works less than 40 hours a week, qualifying them for a
variety of government benefits. Fifty-two percent of families
that include a fast food worker receive food stamps, Medicaid, or
are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families. Compare that sum with the 25
percent of families eligible for those assistance programs from
the overall workforce.
Researchers determined that “non-managerial” employees –
such as cashiers, cooks, servers, and others – are twice as
likely to need financial help. They deemed it “staggering”
how government assistance programs effectively pay costs that
major food chains refuse to.
Most fast food workers (68 percent) are single or married adults
not currently attending school and 26 percent are raising
children – debunking the stereotype that teenagers fill most of
The numbers were assembled in a report written by economists from
the University of California at Berkley and the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Published Tuesday, the report is
affiliated with an organization that has lobbied for the Service
Employees International Union’s (SEIU) involvement in the fast
food industry and comes after workers throughout the US have
called for higher wages and safer working conditions.
Only 13 percent of workers receive health benefits from their
employers, compared to 59 percent of workers elsewhere. An
individual working at McDonalds or Burger King, for example, also
works an average of ten hours less than his or her full-time
counterpart working for a non-fast food company.
The study examined the years between 2007 and 2011, determining
that taxpayers subsidized the industry by an average rate of $7
billion each year.
Conservative groups mobilized against the report before its
Tuesday publication, claiming the authors exaggerated their
findings for the sake of making a political statement.
“In its quest to unionize the fast food industry, the SEIU has
demonstrated that it will leave no stone unturned – including
using ‘research’ and arguments that would get a higher grade in
creative writing than in a high schools economics class,”
Michael Saltsman, research director at the conservative
Employment Policies Institute think tank, said in a statement to
the Los Angeles Times.
The National Restaurant Association, a trade group including some
of the most powerful restaurant chains, released a similar
statement that deemed the report misleading.
“America’s restaurant industry provides opportunities for
millions of Americans, women and men from all backgrounds, to
move up the ladder and succeed,” said Scott Defife, the
association’s executive vice president for policy and government
Another report published this month, this one by the National
Employment Law Project, determined that approximately $3.8
billion is spent on workers employed by the 10 largest fast food
companies in the US. McDonalds, the report noted, accounts for
$1.2 billion of that sum.
Experts have said that the estimated annual figures are likely
low because they do not account for school lunch programs, home
heating assistance, subsidized housing, or any state programs.
Jack Temple, public policy analyst at NELP, told the Guardian
that the current methods allow major corporations to simply
eliminate much of their expense if they are willing to act
“It doesn’t matter whether you work or shop at McDonalds or
not,” he said. “Companies…are basically pushing off part
of their costs on the taxpayers.”