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2013-08-01

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August 6, 2013 - 4:06pm

Blogging Blue: A living wage

BY LAYAN CHARARA

One of the first things I was taught as an economics concentrator is that a business’s ultimate goal is to make a profit. It can easily be deduced that a profit can only be made at the expense of someone or something else — be it a business or an employee. In the case of multinational fast food chains like McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Domino’s and others, it seems that despite all of the competition present in their market, they continue to reap a plethora of profits while profoundly crippling their employees. According to Market Watch, McDonald’s Corporation made $27.57 billion in revenue in Fiscal Year 2012. Its employees earned the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour — or $15,080 per year for a full-time worker clocking 2,080 hours. The average McDonald’s employee — the single mother trying to feed her children, the father struggling to pay rent and keep a roof over his family’s head — makes approximately .00005585 percent of the entire corporation’s profits. And that’s before taxes.

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator, maintaining a one parent, one child household in Detroit costs $49,356 annually. The state minimum wage in Michigan is $7.40 — a number that is not reflective of how many dependents are present in a household, but rather the same for all individuals. The living wage — what an individual must earn working full-time in order to support his/her dependents — necessary to maintain this type of household in Wayne County is $18.77. That’s a difference of $11.37 per hour, or $23,649.60 per year. Detroit is just one of seven cities that witnessed fast food workers protest their wages last week, and I hope that number only multiplies.

On the morning of the protests, I was sitting in my usual seat at the county prosecutor’s office — I’m a court intern — waiting for him to get through the day’s docket. Sitting in the chair to my immediate right was a police officer reading a news article on his phone. He turned to me upon finishing and asked, “So what do you think of these protests?” I said something along the lines of being very pleased that workers were finally taking a stand and trying to reclaim their human dignity. He scoffed. I thought nothing of it and continued my little rant about how the minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted for inflation in years and how corporations’ mistreatment of their employees has gone on for too long — the usual criticisms of capitalism. Only after his next response did I realize he didn’t really care about my opinion — he just wanted to reaffirm his own out loud. “It’s their fault for not doing anything with their lives,” he said. “If they chose to work at a fast food restaurant, they shouldn’t have expected much. Should’ve finished school.” At this point, I interjected. I knew I was beating a dead horse, but I pressed on, saying everything in life is circumstantial, we’re not all presented with the same opportunities, etc. but he was very proud of his opinion, so I resigned my case.

Reflecting back on that conversation, I’m a bit more distraught now than when it was actually taking place — especially after reading about the strikes more extensively. No matter what kind of socioeconomic position a person is in, every individual who is willing to work hard to sustain and provide for his or her family should have the inalienable right to do so. It’s disheartening to think there are people who disagree and silently watch others languish in abject poverty. A man in that officer’s position — one who enforces the law and stands for justice — should be the last person making such insular and contemptuous statements. I applaud the striking workers for their bravery and resolve, and I hope minimum and poverty wage employees continue to stand firm in this fight until we have unionized the fast food industry, implemented a living wage that reflects local costs of living and eliminated the federal minimum wage. While the strikes certainly won’t change the status quo any time soon, they are certainly a step in the right direction and have started a national conversation about the standards we should hold corporations to.

Layan Charara can be reached at chararal@umich.edu.