Wednesday, August 14, 2013

If McDonald’s Can’t See How To Live on Minimum Wage, Who Can?

By Molly Fleming-Pierre

A few weeks ago, McDonald’s made headlines for advertising a budget journal for its employees living on minimum wage. Presented as a tool to help workers navigate stretched finances, the sample budget revealed the near impossibility of surviving on $7.25 an hour. It assumed workers had two jobs, paid $20 a month for health care, $0 for heating and did not budget money for food or clothing.

If one the largest fast food corporation in the world can’t figure out how balance the books on minimum wage, how can many families?

Every day, millions of low-wage workers struggle paycheck to paycheck, forced to choose between paying bills, seeing a doctor when they are sick, or putting food on the table. It’s easy to miss these workers, often hiding in plain sight. They serve our burgers, care for our aging parents and clean our hotel rooms.

They are fathers like Terrance, who barely gets to see his three daughters between working two low-wage jobs. When his meager paychecks could no longer stretch to cover the rent, Terrance and his family recently became homeless.

They are mothers like Carman, who knows that each month, the food will be gone before there is money to buy more, and she’ll have to watch her children go hungry.

In this rich nation, Terrance and Carman are two among millions who work hard every single day, but who are poor. Half of the jobs in this country pay less than $27,000 a year. Most low-wage workers have to keep two, even three jobs to have a fighting chance of keeping a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs.

An economic system in which a person can work and still not make ends meet is inherently unjust.

Catholic teaching is unequivocal on this issue – work is fundamental to the dignity of every person. In their document “Economic Justice for All,” the U.S. bishops are clear, “We judge any economic system by what it does for and to people and by how it permits all to participate in it. The economy should serve people, not the other way around.”

As work has an inherent dignity, wages must reflect the value of that dignity. A person making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour full time earns a scant $15,080 a year before taxes. That puts a family of four well below the poverty line of $23,550. The impacts of these “starvation wages” are devastating.

One in five children in this country is poor. That’s 16 million children living in a wrenching kind of poverty that most of us can’t even imagine. If the moral measure of our nation is marked by how we treat our littlest ones, rising inequality that leaves them behind is proof positive our priorities are out of line.

Some days ago I joined Catholics and other people of faith throughout Kansas City to stand with fast food workers taking action for a living wage. That is, the minimum hourly wage required to meet life’s basic needs at full time work.

Hundreds of low-wage workers, many of them carrying their children on their backs, stood in the rain and in the heat to witness to the cause of their own dignity. Nationally, they were joined by thousands who took action in seven cities, calling for work with dignity.

At some point during the hottest part of the day, I crouched down eye to eye with a small boy standing on the front lines. I asked what he was doing on such a nice day, standing in the hot sun with his family. With wide and solemn eyes, he started right back at me. Slowly and carefully he said, “My mama is worth more.”

Indeed she is.


Molly Fleming-Pierre is Policy Director of COMMUNITIES CREATING OPPORTUNITY, Kansas City, Missouri


Unknown said...

"To have and not give is in some cases worse than stealing" Marie Von Ebnereschenbach (1830-1916, Austrian writer)

Christ said the poor will always be with you, why? Because without the poor the rich cannot be saved. Bishop Sheen

Douglas Naaden said...

This is exactly what's wrong with the way American's process things. Oh no! Something's wrong! Let's pass a law, that will fix it: let's raise minimum wages! Then everything gets more expensive, and everyone looses. Brilliant! Really, instead of trying to pass the buck up, we need to ask about Terrance. How can we help Terrance acquire more skills and get a better job. Then we help Henry, then John, and so on and so forth.
Christianity is not about what we can force others to do for our neighbor: it's about what we can do. If the bishops had realized this back in the day, maybe they wouldn't have sold out the poor to the Democrats.

Jim Belna said...

Up until very recently, I doubt that it ever even occurred to anyone that a minimum-wage job at McDonald's was supposed to pay enough to support a family. It was traditionally an entry-level position for high school students, some of whom were ambitious and hard-working enough to become better paid management trainees and eventually highly-paid managers. Others left to go to college or pursue other employment, but no one stayed on the bottom rung of McDonalds for more than a few months. Of course, it was also the case that anyone who wanted to be able to support a family knew that he or she had to find something better than a minimum-wage job, and they did. Today, considering all of the government subsidies to the working poor, it is possible to support a family with very little earned income - and there is not much financial incentive to work harder and earn more. Tragically, every time that the minimum wage is raised, companies like McDonalds have to cut hours and benefits or lay off workers. It is unfortunate that the USCCB is so enamored of the very policies that hurt the most vulnerable.

Fr. Ernie Davis said...

Well said, Molly. The way I figure it, the minimum wage has gone down 25% in purchasing power in 50 years. In 1963 the minimum wage was $1.25. It it had kept up with inflation, it would now be over $9.00 an hour Fifty years ago the March on Washington asked the minimum wage be raised to $2.00 an hour. If it had been raised and adjusted for inflation, it would now be almost $15 an hour.