Strikes last week by fast-food employees in seven cities underscored how impossible it is for Americans to live on a minimum-wage salary.
In New York City, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint, Mich., workers at the most recognized brands of fast food left their busy counters and hot kitchens to make a point. In many cases, they were joined by friends, family members and clergy.
The demonstrators who carried placards around McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and other outlets run by the corporate giants that carve up a $200 billion-a-year industry were pushing for more than a $1 or $2 boost in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. They were marching for a living wage -- about $15 an hour -- which would make working a second job to afford the basics less necessary. They also want union representation.
The employees complained of stressful working conditions, punitive bosses, unreasonable work rules, arbitrary scheduling and few benefits. The industry responded the way it often has -- by saying that its jobs aren't designed for people with families, but rather for teenagers, college students and retirees.
The reality is that the economy has contracted so dramatically in recent years that downsized workers who never would have considered a job in fast food are now working there, many trying to raise families.
The low wages don't do great things for the restaurants, either. According to Time magazine, the National Restaurant Association estimates that a fast-food outlet sees 75 percent turnover in employees every year. The story also reported that a letter signed by more than 100 economists said that raising the minimum wage to $10.50 would add only a nickel to the price of a Big Mac.
That's a small amount to pay for meaningful change. We think most Americans would be willing to fork over a few more cents for a Happy Meal if it meant happier times for the workers who make them.