This Video Perfectly Illustrates Why Fast Food Workers Across America Have Had Enough

December 8th 2014

Mike Vainisi


There were mass protests in hundreds of cities across America earlier this week as fast food workers gathered to call for higher wages throughout their industry, specifically aiming for $15-an-hour.

The strikes and protests also bring attention to the plight of the working poor in America -- that is, people who have jobs yet can't make ends meet, even with government assistance.

So what is life like for the working poor? For one, it consists of low pay for tough work.

"You pretty much know that you start in the red," said Jemere Calhon, a McDonald's worker who went on strike today. "As soon as I get my check, I already know that it's not enough."

Calhoun makes $9.35 an hour, working four days a week.

Albina Ardon and her husband are McDonald's workers in Los Angeles. Together, they make $900 a month for themselves and their two young children. She makes $9-an-hour. 

Fast food workers are trying to point out that these wages are not enough for one person, let alone a family. 

"It's really hard," said Ardon, who has worked at McDonald's for ten years. "We get paid on the 20th of the month, and I have $100 left right now for the next two weeks until the 20th." 

One of the problem with low wage work is that the hours are not consistent. Fast food workers, for instance, cannot rely on working five days, 40 hours a week. Instead, their lives are constantly beset with uncertainty over whether they will truly be employed the next day. Ardon says that even though she is scheduled to work six hours a day, that's rarely the case. In fact, it's often she'll have at least four days a week where she can come to work and earn two hours of pay. This makes it difficult for these workers to plan more than a couple weeks in advance, paying only the most time sensitive bills and expenses.

"I have to take care of what's the most pressing matter at that time and then think of ways to fill that financial void," Calhoun said. "The most pressing things are having food in the house, diapers, that stuff. I barely have enough to get those -- I have to ask for help from friends, family, and public assistance to even cover those basics."

Calhoun will try to pick up side jobs -- whether it's helping someone move or cleaning a house -- to make up the difference. Craigslist has been a good source for these opportunities. At times, he's had to go on public assistance. Right now, Ardon uses food assistance programs to help feed her family. Both Ardon and Calhoun use Medicaid to cover their children's health care costs.

Critics of these protests have said that they are an attempt by unions to insert themselves into the fast food industry, but you don't need to be a radical leftist to be bothered by the picture that's painted here: Workers -- employed people -- still need government help to make ends meet. Often, their multiple jobs are not enough. This runs against the notion that those who need government aid are only the unemployed, the elderly, or the sick. 

This should also raise the question if it's fair for taxpayers to be helping corporations employ people at such low wages. In many ways, companies McDonald's or Walmart are heavy beneficiaries of government assistance because those programs allow them to pay workers less money.

Increasing the minimum wage would help. A few states raised their minimum wage through ballot initiative last month, and President Obama has called for the federal minimum wage to be raised to over $10-a-hour. This would push up the wages for many fast food workers, who on average made about $8 an hour as of 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.