Should fast-food companies pay employees more? (Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo)
As a pastor on the east side of Detroit, my heart hurts to see our community members working so hard and receiving so little in return. I have to fight back tears when I see employed young adults, with their children, joining the homeless in church food lines because they don’t have enough groceries to make it to the next paycheck.
I recently met Veronica Clarke, a mother of three. Veronica made $7.40 an hour at McDonald’s, despite six years of experience in the fast-food industry. She had to rely on food stamps to feed her children.
Research released earlier this month by the University of California, Berkeley, found more than half — 52 percent — of fast-food workers nationwide and in Michigan are paid so little the taxpaying public needs to provide assistance for their basic needs.
The low wages paid by fast-food companies cost Americans close to an astonishing $7 billion annually — $251 million in Michigan alone.
This is not how our country is supposed to be. Anyone who works hard shouldn’t have to depend on food stamps to get by. And Americans shouldn’t have to pay to help incredibly profitable corporations turn more and more jobs into ones that don’t pay enough to live on.
We hear a lot from the fast-food industry that these low-wage jobs are just stepping stones, that they’re merely part-time employment for teenagers. The truth is that 67 percent of fast-food workers are age 20 and older, and 68 percent are the main earners in their families. More than a quarter are raising children. Nearly 90 percent of employees in the industry are front-line workers with an average wage of $8.94 per hour.
The reality is a perverse system in which those who prepare our food are not paid enough to afford three meals a day.
Workers like Veronica, who want to stand on their own two feet, provide for their children and make enough money to stay in their homes, are unable to do so.
Now, if companies like McDonald’s and Burger King paid their workers higher wages, our nation could invest billions of dollars to repair our crumbling roads, fix our failing schools and create more good-paying jobs.
Michigan’s economy would grow, and our communities would strengthen, workers could afford clothes and health care for their children, and they’d spend that money in Michigan.
It’s time for the fast-food companies to raise wages and ensure that workers who feed our country can feed their families.
Alonzo Bell, pastor of Martin Evans
Missionary Baptist Church and
executive director of Redeem Detroit