Fast-food workers at McDonald’s and Wendy’s get about $7 billion a year in U.S. government aid, a report published Tuesday shows.
With jobs not paying enough for employees to meet basic needs, an increasing number of working families must rely on publicly funded programs, according to a study from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Fast-food employees have staged periodic strikes this year with demands of as much as $15 per hour pay and the right to form a union. Fast-food cooks make $9 an hour on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While workers have protested in cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and Milwaukee this year, the strikes have done little to change the restaurant sector, which employs more than 10 million Americans.
“The industry is a heavy user of minimum-wage and low-wage workers,” Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at Berkeley and an author of the report, said in an interview. “Low-wage workers today, in general, are making less than their counterparts did 50 years ago.”
That’s why some fry cooks are in poverty, she said.
When workers tap programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, the earned income tax credit and temporary aid for needy families to bridge the gap between paychecks, the cost is born by taxpayers, according to the report that analyzed the years 2007 to 2011.
More than half of fast-food worker families participate in these government programs, compared with 25 percent of the total U.S. workforce, the report shows.
Worker advocacy group Fast Food Forward paid for the study. The New York-based organization receives funding from the Service Employees International Union.
The research group Policy Matters Ohio has reported that Ohio has what were called 75,000 frontline fast-food workers. The Cleveland organization said 45 percent of those fast-food workers use public benefit programs: 39 percent, the Earned Income Tax Credit; 17 percent Medicaid; 13 percent the Children’s Health Insurance Program; and 21 percent food stamps.
The combined public cost works out to $291 million, with $67 million for the federal EITC, $132 million for adult Medicaid, $48 million for children’s health insurance and $40 million for food stamps, the organization said.