One week ago, the McDonald’s Corporation reported a 35-percent increase in profits (from $811.5 million in the period last year to $1.1 billion) in the quarter that ended 31 March. A few days later, former McDonald’s President and CEO Ed Rensi published an opinion piece in Forbes to explain why raising the minimum wage would be a huge mistake.
Let’s do the math: A typical franchisee sells about $2.6 million worth of burgers, fries, shakes and Happy Meals each year, leaving them with $156,000 in profit. If that franchisee has 15 part-time employees on staff earning minimum wage, a $15 hourly pay requirement eats up three-quarters of their profitability. (In reality, the costs will be much higher, as the company will have to fund raises further up the pay scale.) For some locations, a $15 minimum wage wipes out their entire profit.
Recouping those costs isn’t as simple as raising prices. If it were easy to add big price increases to a meal, it would have already been done without a wage hike to trigger it. In the real world, our industry customers are notoriously sensitive to price increases. (If you’re a McDonald’s regular, there’s a reason you gravitate towards an extra-value meal or the dollar menu.) Instead, franchisees can absorb the cost with a change that customers don’t mind: The substitution of a self-service computer kiosk for a a full-service employee.
What Rensi doesn’t mention is that U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing McDonald’s profits.
As Ken Jacobs reports,
Workers like Terrence Wise, a 35-year-old father who works part-time at McDonald’s and Burger King in Kansas City, Mo., and his fiancée Myosha Johnson, a home care worker, are among millions of families in the U.S. who work an average of 38 hours per week but still rely on public assistance. Wise is paid $8.50 an hour at his McDonald’s job and $9 an hour at Burger King. Johnson is paid just above $10 an hour, even after a decade in her field. Wise and Johnson together rely on $240 a month in food stamps to feed their three kids, a cost borne by taxpayers.
In fact, according to a study by Jacobs, Ian Perry, and Jenifer MacGillvary (pdf) for the UC Berkeley Labor Center, 52 percent of fast-food workers make so little that they’re are on some form of public assistance.*
That’s the social cost of McDonald’s (and other fast-food corporations’) private profits.
*Note also in the chart above the following observation about nominally non-profit higher education in the United States: “high reliance on public assistance programs among workers isn’t found only in service occupations. Fully one-quarter of part-time college faculty and their families are enrolled in at least one of the public assistance programs analyzed in this report.”