Take A Guess How Much Fast Food Workers Get Paid In Other Countries

December 1st 2014

Trevor Reece

Here is some interesting history for you:
•     Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage peaked at $8.56 in 1968.
•    The average age of a U.S. Senator is 62, meaning they were 16 in 1968. 
•    So your average U.S. Senator was entering the workforce while the federal minimum wage was at its peak.


Once upon a time, fast food jobs were meant for young people starting out in the workforce. Before it became a pejorative term, “flipping burgers” was often a rite of passage, a first step towards success.

But that was a long time ago.

Now, the average minimum wage worker is 35 years old and teenagers make up only 12% of minimum wage workers.

It is no secret that minimum wage lifestyle is a constant struggle here in the United States, particularly among immigrants, the lower class, and young people. In general, the purchasing power of American workers has fallen dramatically in comparison to the rest of the developed world. 

And while fast food workers are not the only ones who have to deal with the minimum wage, more often than not, they are the focus of the minimum wage debate, with good reason. Out of every American industry, fast food has the largest gap between CEO-to-worker pay.


A Dec. 2013 article on the Huffington Post perfectly illustrates that point in its title: "It Takes a McDonald's Worker 4 Months to Earn What the CEO Gets In An Hour."

McDonald’s is the face of fast food; most of its operations have been co-opted by the other fast food businesses, such as its assembly line food prep and franchising. Thanks to its trademark uniformity, anyone can walk into a McDonald’s throughout the world and basically have the same experience, which allows us to see how minimum wage plays out across the globe.

The median wage of a McDonald's employee in the U.S. is $7.73 per hour, which is lower than the state minimum wage for 1/3 of the country. It's also over $1 lower than the median wage of all fast food workers ($8.90/hr). McDonald's also has the biggest share of public assistance for its employees among fast food chains ($1.2 billion). Again though, this is not exclusive to McDonald's; roughly half of all fast food workers in the U.S. receive some form of public assistance... But McDonald’s employees receive the lion’s share. YUM! Brands, the corporation that owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, receives the second most public assistance ($648 million), roughly half of the amount McDonald’s employees receive. Meanwhile, fast food CEOs are earning more than ever.

The United States ranks 14th in the world for highest federal minimum wage, below Japan ($8.48), Germany ($11.60), France ($12.22), San Marino ($12.49), Luxembourg ($14.24), and Australia, which has the highest minimum wage at $15.81. Denmark has no federal minimum wage, but has a median minimum wage of $20/hr across its industries.

And while these countries offer higher wages, for the most part, their food prices remain consistent. Using The Economist’s famed “Big Mac Index,” we can see that, despite workers in Denmark making more than double their American counterparts, they are only paying $0.35 more for a Big Mac. A Big Mac costs $4.80 in the US, $5.15 in Denmark; and of the countries mentioned that have a higher minimum wage, France pays $5.25 for a Big Mac, Germany pays $4.94, and Japan only $3.64.

Big Mac Index

Over the past few years, many American fast food workers have taken to protesting the wage policies of their employers. Like so many other sectors of our country, no protective legislation has been passed, though wage disparity increases with no end in sight.

According to a study last year by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), CEOs and executives of major fast food companies are making record profits. The top fast food corporations earned $7.44 billion in profits and spent $7.7 billion in dividends and stocks in 2013. Of these companies, Burger King showed the most restraint with $117.7 million in profits, but only $14 million in executive compensation. McDonald’s, not surprisingly, was at the top of both lists, with $5.46 billion in profits and $5.5 billion back to the executives.

The difference between what fast food workers in the US make compared to those around the world derives from the economic environment within each nation. The high wages earned by McDonald's workers in Denmark result from the power Danish unions wield. In fact, when McDonald's opened the first Danish store in 1989, they attempted to maintain the standard wage policies, only to be pressured a year later to adjust to the union’s policies. Minimum wage workers in the United States have had no such luck; these workers need supportive lawmakers who will change laws including raising the minimum wage, because American businesses have repeatedly shown that they will keep wages as low as possible and continue to shift the burden of public assistance on the American taxpayer.


To petition for a higher minimum wage in the United States, click here

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” – FDR