Tuesday, October 29, 2013

McDonald's and a Living Wage

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how companies like McDonald’s need to pay their workers a “living wage” that they can support a family on, and I’ve always disagreed with that. Not because I didn’t feel for the people who were trying to support families on a McDonald’s paycheck, and not because I’m totally callous toward the poor and the working poor. Quite the contrary, I believe that we should do more to help them, and that we’ll be a better society as a result.

No, my reason for disagreeing is very simple: I know from my years working there myself that McDonald’s is a “trained monkey job.” Really. It doesn't require you to have any skills that are worth $18/hour. It’s a beginner's job, where you learn the skills that you’ll need to keep other jobs in the future. True, most people will not go on to work for McDonald’s corporate, or to own their own franchise. Most people will never need to know what order to put the condiments on a Big Mac in their later lives, but it does teach you about showing up on time, working with others, and following directions without talking back.

Minimum wage jobs like those at McDonald’s were never designed to be jobs that a person could support a family on. With the exception of the managers, they were supposed to be jobs that teenagers and housewives worked for spare cash. They were flexible jobs that you could work while taking classes or while the kids were in school.

But there’s something else that I forgot about, that helps to make my point. It’s important to keep in mind, and we forget these days, that there were other jobs back then that paid good money. There were factory jobs where a person with only a high school education could work their way up and make good money…enough to support a family on. McDonald’s was always considered “chump change,” but good enough for the teenager saving up for his own car, or for spending money.

Then those other jobs went away, and McDonald’s was all that was left for people with no education or special training. They’re still paying what they’ve always paid, and now everyone’s getting on their case for not paying a living wage, or saying that the minimum wage needs to be increased so that a person could support a family on a McDonald’s paycheck.

Wrong. What needs to happen is for there to be jobs that are worth the living wage that would be paid to people. And believe it or not, according to an NPR piece from June 2011, a lot of them are out there, going begging for people to take them. The problem is that they all require some level of education or training after high school, or special training during high school.  And I suspect that the people at McDonald’s who are trying to support families are heavily weighted toward those who don’t have that education or training.

So…it seems that what we really need to do is to get everyone to understand the importance of an education, and to get them to go for it. That will enable them to get a job that pays a living wage.

And leave the burger-flipping to the teenagers who want a little spare cash.


  1. As much as I would LIKE to see minimum wage increased, I too disagree that it should be to a "living wage." Education in ANY FORM, vocational or otherwise, is the key. A "living education" should be made available to ALL so that they can obtain jobs that pay a "living wage" AND that attitude of "get AN education" needs to be stressed. I am not advocating free education for everyone BUT there needs to be SOMETHING affordable available for those willing to gain the skills for a "living wage" job. And for those NOT willing to gain those skills, SOME sort of incentive needs to be put on the table to "urge" them to BECOME willing.

    My perspective has changed now that I am the step-dad to a delinquent who has NO high-school diploma, no job, no ambition to GET a job, a police record (and probably an outstanding warrant), an almost two year old son, a wife, and is not even 21. I see how hard his wife works to better her and her son's lives. She gets that she messed up getting involved with him and not completing high school either. SHE is struggling to make her way but with him as a weight around her neck life is difficult. I am NOT insensitive to those who are truly struggling BUT, if they had at least finished high school, so much more would be available to them.

    Maybe make getting a GED easier with more flexible timing and classes or a maybe add a vocational option? I don't claim to have the answers but I agree with "Mr. G" on the importance of education.

    Ranting complete.

  2. When I think about minimum wage laws it always reminds me of the efforts during the Clinton administration to make housing cheaper, in part by lowering interest rates. When I first heard about it my reaction was "Hmmm... That won't actually make houses any cheaper to build, will it? I wonder what will go wrong." And it didn't work --- unless you count inflating home prices.
    Now, if they'd done something like work on making houses actually cheaper to build, we might have gotten somewhere.
    The same logic applies for the minimum wage. You can set it to what ever level you want, but it isn't going to change what my labor is worth to buyers, or what they are willing to pay. Something's going to give.
    In the case of McDonald's, I think I know what will give if the minimum wage goes up. Over the summer I got to see a little peek of the future when I went to Amsterdam. In the city center you can buy freshly cooked fast food from slots in a wall, right outside the restaurant's kitchen. It is sort of like a freshly loaded food vending machine, and I'm willing to bet they need fewer employees than a typical American style fast food restaurant.