Fast Food Nation: Why Higher Wages for Workers Benefit Us All

From New York to San Diego, thousands of fast food workers have gone on strike for higher wages and the right to form unions. Roughly three million people – disproportionately people of color – work in fast food, earning a median wage of $8.94 an hour. Better pay would not only benefit them and their families; it also would strengthen the U.S. economy. Here's why:

  1. Increase consumer spending. Every $1 increase in the minimum wage increases a household's consumer spending by $2,800 a year, estimates the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank. Multiply that by three million fast food workers, and the nation would see tens of billions of dollars in new consumer spending.
  2. Create better-paying jobs in low-income neighborhoods. Fast food establishments tend to cluster in low-income neighborhoods where there are few other employment options, including in poor suburbs. Raising wages for fast food workers would provide better employment opportunities, helping to revitalize neighborhoods while we continue to work to improve food choices in these communities.
  3. Reduce strain on our public assistance programs. Restaurant workers, including fast food workers, are on public assistance programs like food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, according to Saru Jayaraman from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. More than 80 percent of fast food workers earn less than $10.10 an hour, or $18,500 per year, which means they are eligible for food stamps if they're in a family of two or more. Raising the wage would allow our public dollars to go towards necessary investments in infrastructure and education, not subsidizing employers for low-wage jobs. 
  4. Raise the floor for all. Higher wages for fast food workers would put upward pressure on other low-wage industries that hire from a similar pool of workers, like other restaurant work and retail. Restaurant, retail, and service occupations are projected to have the largest employment growth in the economy, and even though many who work in these occupations have some college education, these are among the few jobs that do not require a high school diploma. Raising the floor for these jobs is an essential step towards rebuilding a middle-class economy.
  5. Create better opportunities for the next generation. More than one in four fast food workers struggle to support at least one child. Research from the Partnership for America's Economic Success shows that an increase in household income to 150 percent of the poverty line (roughly $14/hour) during early childhood can lead to increased earnings – by as much as $200,000 over his or her lifetime.