What’s the real cost of cheap, fast food?

(Photo: Belleville News-Democrat) Last week, thousands of Americans stepped away from their jobs at fast-food restaurants and into the streets … Continued


(Photo: Belleville News-Democrat)

Last week, thousands of Americans stepped away from their jobs at fast-food restaurants and into the streets to make a plea: Pay us enough to support ourselves and feed our families. The workers joining this nationwide protest are our neighbors, friends, fellow citizens. But their strike is not just about their plight. It is about all of us, and the kind of country we want to live in.

As economic inequality grows deeper and wider across the nation, we need to remember how deeply unjust it is. It is unjust by the standards of our civic values and of our faith indeed, in this diverse society, of all faith traditions.

Dr. King, who died while pleading on behalf of underpaid and exploited workers, said, “It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.” Drawing from the same centuries-old Christian teaching, Pope Francis warned, 50 years later, “No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins, or excludes a part of itself.”

The measures of inequality in our society are abundant. While McDonald’s CEO was paid $13.8 million in 2012 and Burger King’s $6.5 million, the average fast-food worker makes $10,000 to $18,000 a year. While corporate profits have ballooned, many workers qualify for food stamps and housing subsidies. Some have to live in homeless shelters.

The majority of fast-food workers, and of those in retail jobs that are just as poorly paid, are adults their median age is 28 and more than a quarter of them are raising children. Many are denied full-time work, as employers limit their hours to keep them from qualifying for health insurance and other benefits. In big cities, their rents are high and even public transportation is a financial strain.

What they ask is simply a wage of $15 an hour and the right to form unions. The plea echoes those of the March on Washington 50 years ago, which called for a national minimum wage of $2 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $15.26 today, or more than twice what the actual minimum wage is. That, too, is barely enough to feed a family.

Religious leaders, among many others, have called for an increase in the minimum wage as the number of Americans living in poverty has grown, but Congress shows no sign of responding. Certainly the fast-food industry, with high unemployment keeping its labor costs down, is not raising standards on its own. And so, once again, workers are taking to the picket lines.

America’s failure to allow so many of its own workers a sustaining wage is only a symptom of a larger sickness, the “culture of selfishness” that Pope Francis recently decried as he lamented the growing chasm between rich and poor.

For the past ten years, wages and salaries for most workers, especially those at the bottom of the income scale, have remained stagnant. While productivity continued to climb, virtually all the economic gains of the last decade have flowed to the very richest among us. We have behaved more as corporate shareholders than as community shareholders committed to the common good. As support programs for the poor have been cut, we have looked away, embodying what Pope Francis calls the “globalization of indifference.” We have accepted the notion that those at the bottom, no matter how hard they work, are somehow undeserving.

From its earliest days, Christianity has condemned avarice and embraced community. Jesus told parables of the need to pay workers a just wage, as did the Old Testament prophets before him and church leaders and scholars for centuries after him. The call for justice in the treatment of workers is a moral imperative. The doctrine does not change with time or political or economic trends, but has guided spiritual leaders for centuries.

That is why clergy across America are supporting the workers who, at risk to their livelihoods, are taking to the streets in 40 cities. They are appealing not just to their employers but to all who should be their allies. It is our country, our future, and our conscience.

Fr. Fred Kammer, SJ is Director, Jesuit Social Research Institute Loyola University New Orleans.

About

  • The-Q

    Paying workers more is a good idea, but it is not the correct solution. The economy is not being allowed to correct itself. The federal reserve is keeping prices artificially high by releasing 85 billion dollars in bonds each month.

    If the market was allowed to correct itself consumer prices would be dropping. Everything would be dropping in price since 2007. Folks could afford to live on what they make.

  • Khartet

    making big macs wasn’t meant to be a “career”.

  • leibowde84

    Everyone agrees that the way that wealth is dispersed in this country is incredibly unjust, but it is important to remember the basic principle of “cause and effect.” If you tax businesses more, they will move production to another country. If you tax the rich more, the rich will leave the country and their spending will benefit another economy. If McDonalds decides to pay its employees $15, but Burger King doesn’t, McDonalds will go under. If we cut government spending, the things that the government has to do, and already isn’t very good at, will be done even worse.

    Things like this have to be thought about in the light of the human condition. The desire to make money is overpowering in the business sector (pretty obvious, I know). You can never expect businesses to “do the right thing” or “be just and fair.” And, if you force them to, they will just pack up and leave. We have to give them opportunity in raising the wages of their workers. Maybe it would be better if they got more qualified workers, but only hired less of them. Or, would that be another problem? This is complicated, and just saying “they deserve to make a living wage” isn’t going to work. It isn’t addressing every angle of the problem and pretty much just ignores the other side.

    Be real, people, and we might get somewhere.

  • leibowde84

    Good point.

  • Catken1

    Well, how do you think McDonald’s is going to keep open during school hours if they don’t hire people who are old enough not to have to go to school? And while some retirees can handle the physical demands of the job, not all can.
    Practically speaking, some of the people working at McDonald’s are going to be adults. And adults need to be paid a living wage.

  • ZZimian

    β€œIt is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.”

    I don’t agree. If the value of your labor is worth less than or equal starvation wages, then I see no moral angle here.
    .

  • ZZimian

    leibowde84 wrote: “Everyone agrees that the way that wealth is dispersed in this country is incredibly unjust”

    I don’t agree.

Read More Articles

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.