This infographic is provocative, and yet you’re probably wondering what in the world the recent controversies over fast food worker pay have to do with a health and wellness blog series. The answer is simple: We know that as workers move up on the socioeconomic ladder and become more financially secure, they also become healthier.
Image Courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI)
So, am I headed somewhere in the direction of “give it up McDonalds, and pay your
people more?” Not exactly. Instead, I propose something a little bit more ambitious. A plan that could help demonstrate the power of the market to truly help people come together and do better for themselves and their families.
To start the conversation, this infographic is unfortunately accurate, and the truth lies in our recovery from the Great Recession. Historically, these jobs were intended to be entry-level stepping-stones, corresponding to the profile of the worker on the left. However, our recovery has been dominated by part-time job opportunities (often two or three), with many people forced to accept them in lieu of work more suitable to their experience and expertise. This is the tragedy.
The intended fast food worker does receive benefit from his/her fast food job at its current pay rate in the form of spending money, responsibility and work experience. But reality has changed and the actual worker needs more to support his/her financial needs and goals. This is not surprising given that the current worker most likely has responsibility for supporting himself and his family. And no, he can’t do that on minimum wage.
Still, there will be unintended consequences from doubling the minimum wage. Consumers will bear the brunt of the increased labor cost, and if things cost proportionally more, how much does that benefit the worker in real terms? Additionally, except for the few who aspire to management positions, these jobs lead nowhere, so the linked issues of upward mobility, increased prosperity and better health for working people get lost.
We can do better.
Let’s reach out to the fast food industry and ask them to form a job training foundation for employees. There is vast evidence to suggest that there are jobs for people with specific skills – nurses are in demand, for example, as are home health workers and physical and occupational therapists. Technology jobs are available for those with training, as well as jobs for special education teachers and early childhood education specialists. Work is out there, but our unemployed workforce is right now being squashed – caught between the elimination of the jobs they used to hold, and their overwhelming inability to train for new positions because they have to work three part-time jobs to support their families.
It would be a powerful thing for McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and Arby’s, for example, to unite. That unification would fund the “Successful Lives – Healthy Lives” job training program, where every part-time worker would have access to job counseling and training, providing the opportunity to move up the ladder, fuel their family’s prosperity and increase their health and wellness outcomes. Modest quarterly bonuses might be offered for each module of study an employee completes. Also, because they are working part-time, these workers are more likely to have time to actively participate in training.
Universal participation among the fast food industry would take a bite out of annual profits, that is true, but over time the results would be stunning:
- The intended worker profile (the worker on the left) would once again likely greet you at the drive-in window – lowering youth unemployment
- Displaced and disenfranchised workers would have greater access to upwardly mobile jobs, largely returning fast food employment to the stepping stone job it was intended to be
- Financial success will translate into a healthier work force, and,
- The .99 cent value menu will still be .99 cents