Give ’em a break

Earl O. Hutchinson | 9/16/2014, 6 a.m.

A couple of generations of schoolkids grew up on the catchy McDonald’s advertising jingle, “You deserve a break today.”

But during every working moment of those years, McDonald’s workers, and those at other fast food places, have gotten anything but a break when it comes to their wages.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a fast food worker is the poorest paid of any worker in the country. The average pay for fast food workers is barely 9 bucks an hour. Many, however, make closer to the obscenely low $7.25 hourly minimum wage.

This averages out to about $15,000 a year. That’s below the federal poverty level for a family of two.

The stock argument from the National Restaurant Association and legions of other business groups is that slinging burgers at McDonald’s or Burger King is mostly for kids, immigrants or unskilled workers, and for them it’s a boon since it’s their entry into the labor force.

This is a myth.

According to the BLS, the average age of fast food workers is now closer to 30 than the teeny-bopper age. The wholesale shrinking of jobs in manufacturing and the financial industries and other factors have driven thousands of adults, many of them once middle class and with skills, into fast food jobs. Many of them have families, mortgages and ballooning health and child care expenses.

And there’s not much chance that most fast food workers can ramp up their pay since fast food eateries are loathe to pay workers for overtime.

Support groups are demanding a pay hike to $15 for fast food workers. The biggest obstacle is that outlandish myth and the perception of who a minimum-wage hike will help.

The GOP and many business groups have sold the false notion that a hike in the minimum wage is a huge job killer. It has been so effective in its hard sell that President Obama and Congressional Democrats have been stymied in trying to boost the minimum wage nationally.

House Speaker John Boehner, in a pithy, simplistic retort to the cry for a minimum-wage increase, said, “When you raise the price of employment, you get less of it.”

The slogan, of course, ignores reality. States that have boosted wages have not experienced a plunge in jobs or a flight of employers.

Giving fast food workers a decent living wage would not in and of itself reverse the gargantuan income inequality that’s become a national embarrassment.

And it certainly wouldn’t cause a company such as McDonald’s that racked up more than $5 billion in profits in 2013 to come crashing down.

But it would give hope to tens of thousands of workers and create an overall gain for the economy through their increased spending. This is the real break that fast food workers need.

The writer is an author and political analyst.