Tuesday, August 6, 2013

McDonald’s tries to be helpful

Low wage workers all over the country have been going on strike for better pay and working conditions. Not surprisingly, corporations do not want to give in to those demands. They've come up with a number of arguments for not raising the minimum wage, but McDonald's has provided my favorite so far.

Forbes calculates that a single childless person will net $1,160 per month by working full time at minimum wage ($7.25/hour). That’s with no vacation or sick days (and who are we kidding, these are minimum wage workers after all).  That may not seem like enough money to live on (less than $14,000 per year), which is why fast food workers have been striking for a $15 per hour wage. However, fast food corporations maintain that the wages they currently pay their workers are perfectly adequate. They argue that all their employees need is a proper budget, which the helpful folks at McDonald's have provided.

You can see a sample of their budget below. 

Notice anything striking?  

First, you may observe that the budget starts with the $1,105 you’d earn by working full time at McDonald's. This is about what Forbes calculated you’d net by working a forty hour week. So far so good. Right under that is the line where you can add the income from your second full time job. Yes, McDonald’s cheerfully suggests that you’ll have no trouble making ends meet as long as you follow their budget and work two full time jobs. You’d need to work over seventy hours per week to earn the $2000 a month you'll need to survive on their budget. On the other hand, McDonald's could pay their workers the $15/hour they're asking for.

You may also notice that the budget allows $50/month for heating. And that's on the revised budget. Earlier versions assumed you'd be paying nothing for heating. Just to be clear, this is not the budget for Miami Beach McDonald’s employees. This is for the whole country. Those of you who live in colder climes can judge for yourself whether this seems reasonable. $600 for rent seems optimistically low as well, especially considering that the nationwide average rent in 2012 was over $1000 per month. To avoid going over budget on rent, you’d better hope your McDonald's franchise happens to be located in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Like any good employer, McDonald's offers its employees a choice of health plans. The cheapest possible plan, which covers that employee alone and no family members, is $12.58 per week. That comes to a little over $50 per month. Take another look at the handy budget provided by McDonald's and you'll see that they allot $20 a month for health insurance. Apparently, McDonald's doesn't expect any of their low wage employees to be able to afford the McDonald's health plan. Perhaps the $20/month is intended to go toward replenishing a first aid kit.

So, the budget is a tad unrealistic. You can always rearrange the amounts to suit real life circumstances, right? For example, employees could take money for health insurance out of their monthly food allotment. Oh wait, there is no monthly food allotment. Food, clothing and household items all have to come out of the extra money you’ll save by working two full time jobs and living in a heatless warren over someone’s garage.

At this point, you may be thinking that the people making these low wages are mostly kids living with their parents anyway. They don’t need to buy health insurance or pay rent, they’re just looking for a little extra iTunes cash. Think again. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics over 50% of low wage workers are over age 24. Nearly a quarter of low wage earners have children to care for and 10% are single parents. I guess McDonald's believes that it's not all that hard to raise a family on the wages they're willing to pay as long as you're willing to forego luxuries like eating every day or spending time with your kids.

No one is suggesting that learning to budget is not a useful skill, but McDonald's budget is a slap in the face to poor people. They and other companies pay their workers so little that no amount of budgeting or penny pinching will allow them to feed and clothe their children without government assistance, and then those companies pretend that the problem lies with those employees.

Finally, even if you have no sympathy for American workers, think about this. Do you really want your food prepared by exhausted discouraged people in poor health with nothing to lose? I thought not.