Here’s how much low fast food wages cost Pennsylvania

A report from University of California-Berkeley examining the public costs associated with fast food companies paying their employees low wages was released yesterday. And it’s pretty infuriating.

It goes without saying that earning federal minimum wage (and Pennsylvania’s) isn’t enough to feed and maintain oneself successfully—much less a whole family—but the recent report sort of puts an exclamation point on this ongoing problem. According to the Berkeley study, 52 percent of front-line fast food employees have been forced to enroll in one or more public programs, at the cost of $7 billion per year.

Broken down by state, it was found that the public cost of low wage jobs in Pennsylvania is $204 million each year. Forty-two percent of fast food workers in this state rely on public assistance.

The main programs fast food workers are taking in due to low wages, nationally: $3.9 billion per year in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program; $1.95 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit payments; $1.04 billion—ironically—in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; and $82 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

And as we noted this summer, 67 percent of front-line fast food workers (this means, those actually working in the restaurants) are 20 and older, and 68 percent are the main earners in their families. These statistics are often counted to show that fast food workers are not just high school students working summer jobs, as they are so often portrayed in the media and otherwise.

A second study released this week by the National Employment Law Project showed which companies are best working the system, and the numbers are not surprising.

McDonald’s leads the pack with an estimated $1.2 billion in government assistance paid to employees, followed by Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC), Subway, Burger King, and Wendy’s.

This is part of the reason why that nationwide fast food worker strike took place in late August. Workers left their jobs for a day to demand $15/hour minimum wage, which is not happening any time soon. In the meantime, enjoy living under the assumption that raising the minimum wage costs jobs.

Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso

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