By State Representative, Leon D. Young
Another Thanksgiving and Holiday Season is upon us. And, as generally is the case, millions of Americans will gather with family and friends in celebrating this joyous time of the year.
Retail merchants have been besieging prospective shoppers for weeks about the blockbuster deals that await them on Black Friday (11/29) – the official start of the holiday shopping season.
Shoppers are urged to spend their money, early and often, in order to make this holiday season a very memorable one. However, is this “preoccupation with commercial consumption” the real essence of the holidays?
Last week, I participated in a town hall forum at the Martin Luther King Center that focused on the reports released in October by the University of California, Berkeley and the National Employment Project that examined the public costs of low wages paid by fast-food companies.
Here’s a summary of the key findings in the reports:
• Low wages paid by fast food-food companies cost Americans nearly $7 billion – more than the entire budget of the Centers for Disease Control and enough to hire 124,000 teachers.
• Fast-food jobs pay so little that 52 percent of the females of front-line fast food workers need to rely on public assistance programs.
• In Wisconsin, the public cost of low-wage fast food jobs is $166 million every year. One example, during the third quarter of 2013, taxpayers in Wisconsin picked up the tab for BadgerCare for 3,800 McDonald’s workers and their family members.
• Compared to the overall economy, fast-food jobs are twice as likely as other jobs to pay wages so low that workers are forced to rely on public assistance (52 percent versus 25 percent).
• Full-time jobs in the corporate fast-food industry do not pay enough for workers to get by.
Even at 40 hours a week, more than half of front-line fast-food workers are forced to rely on public assistance to cover basic needs like food, rent and healthcare.
• 67 percent of core front line fast-food workers are adults 20 and older, and 68 percent are the main earners in their families.
More than one-quarter are raising children.
• The 10 biggest fast food corporations are responsible for nearly 60 percent, or $3.8 billion, of the almost $7 billion in public costs associated with their low-wage, no benefit business model.
• McDonald’s represents the most costly fast-food company for taxpayers. Its low wages and lack of benefits leave taxpayers contributing $1.2 billion every year to public assistance programs. YUM! Brands, Subway, Burger King and Wendy’s round out the top five fast-food companies that depend on public assistance for their workers to afford the basics for their families.
• The 10 largest fast-food companies alone made more than $7.4 billion in profits in 2012, awarding more than $53 million in compensation to their highest- paid executives and an additional $7.7 billion in dividends and buybacks to shareholders.
The unnecessary and callous plight of the poor and working poor in our midst should give every American ample reason to pause and reflect.
In this nation of incredible abundance, it’s morally reprehensible for countless Americans to go to bed hungry, lack access to medical care or forced to live on the streets.