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First off I've worked at the Golden Arches off and on since I was 15.  I've been in situations where the check was my only income, and other situations where I just worked McDonald's to pay off some bills while working another job that actually made money.  I was even the guy with the Masters degree flipping your burgers.  I've seen what it's like to live on minimum wage and what the reality of McDonald's is, without the centrist Democrat/libertarian spin that says any McPeon can be president of McDonald's if they believe.  That's why I was so happy to see McDonald's release their thoughts on how their wage slaves should budget their pittance, all the while condescendingly telling them that saving money with nothing is super easy and their lives will be all the better for it.  The article is a full-throated, strident argument for raising the minimum wage and maybe even linking it to inflation.

First off, the budget assumes you have a second job.  This showed some deep, empathic thinking on the part of Visa and McDonald's.  They know their workers in and out.  Really!  They do!  Most of the crew people you see at McDonald's fall into one of four categories (excluding management):

1. Teenagers working their first job.  This group has parents (ostensibly) floating the bill for housing, food, heat, electricity, and all that other first world fun stuff.  They usually work McDonald's part time, 20 hours max, to buy their cell phone or save money for a car.  Some even save for college!

2. Young people going to college.  Many of the young people you see at your local Mickey D's that are under the age of 26 are going to college full or part time.  It's funny, because older people tend to think that people working at McDonald's are there for their career, which was probably true 20-30 years ago.  People who couldn't aspire to anything greater probably did stay at the Golden Arches as their career.  Now it's a way for college students to have some money on hand and take responsibility now that mom and dad have the tuition bill to handle.  

3. Immigrants and refugees.  Guatemalans, Albanians, Somalis, Mexicans, you name it, they come from far and wide to work for minimum wage.  Usually, comparatively, McDonald's is better than experiencing genocide or trying to live through the transition from a communist country to a capitalist free market/mafia economy.  I know this makes moderate Republicans tingle.  These people are usually grateful for their job, but don't think for two seconds they enjoy it or that they want their kids doing it.  

4. Just-made-it-through-high school types.  Nothing against not going to college.  It's not for everyone.  The core of McDonald's are people who basically barely graduated high school and looked up when they were 18 and said "Well, not that there's much else.  This or the military."  

Now, the management is a different story.  They either were people who went to college and fell back into security instead of pursuing their dreams, they were the high school barely-made-it types, or they are deftly using McDonald's for some type of personal gain, be it the health insurance or tuition assistance.  The higher ups got into corporate through college or worked at a Mickey D's and waited until they got that degree to get into the upper echelons.  Sure, there is the story of the crew person who worked front counter and then worked at McDonalds' high command...after 25 years and a lot of backstabbing.  

For the crew, most people either don't depend on a McDonald's salary to live, or if they do, need a second job or a second person to make ends meet.  Most of the ones that rely on McDonald's as their income have roommates or receive income assistance from family or relatives (but that's hush hush usually).  McDonald's and Visa factored that into their budget!  They didn't go into those messy details, but they knew that no one that lives in an area with rent above $500 can live off their salary.

Oh, almost forgot: food stamps, medicaid, social security (if living with older parents), earned income tax credit, child tax credits, housing assistance, emergency heating assistance, WIC, Obama-phones (gotta love 'em!), and using the emergency room as your personal doctor.  You can check off all of these boxes.  McDonald's probably didn't want to give everyone a headache adding that onto their budget.  After all, it's what their taxes go for, right?  They ain't paying 35% (*cough* before rebate *cough*) corporate taxes for nothing!  It's not like they benefit from agriculture subsidies or the people who use food stamps who then gain extra surplus income to spend on McSwill.  No, that's out of the question.

Another great thing about the McDonald's budget was that they assumed the worker got 40 hours per week!  This was a subtle argument for minimum wage that McDonald's knew it's workers would get and most Americans would understand: Many McDonald's workers don't work 40 hours per week!  During slow season your hours get cut faster than a piece of fish at a sushi bar.  Can't make it on 15 hours per week?  Here's a Mc-Middle Finger.  During peak season, like summer, they may need you.  However, you'll also find that many don't want you to pay unemployment insurance, so they work you right up until 29 hours and then tell you to go work that second job McDonald's budgeted for.  Local laws may give you other benefits past 30, but the fact still stands they will just give you right to the limit, and then none at all.  

Also keep in mind, since you are paid every 1-2 weeks at your McDonald's the money you need for rent and utility checks isn't necessarily collected by the time you need to pay them.  Working 40 hours a week to get only 290 dollars, after taxes, is tiring and you need that money, so I hope you have the number to that local check cashing place!  They'll be sure to help you for 400 cents on the dollar.  

As for health insurance, McDonald's has that premier, gold plated insurance that gives you one visit to a clinic for a checkup, but nothing for anything past $1,000 in cost.  No emergency room, no prescriptions.  But everyone loves physicals and checkups.  Why shouldn't you hand over 2-3 hours of your McLife for insurance that doesn't cover you for most things you'd actually want to be covered for?  

McDonald's and Visa teamed up together to put out a budget for American's to see that McDonald's workers should take more personal responsibility for their lives and earn a higher wage to take care of their own health care, their own housing, and to be able to save enough money so that when their car breaks down, their kids get sick, or they need to pay something that is absolutely vital to their continually being able to go to work, they can, without the taxpayers footing the bill.  Americans can then take more responsibility for their families, their recreation, and their home life without having to spend 80 some odd hours in a repetitive, mindless job.  McDonald's budget deserves a standing ovation.  

Originally posted to sujigu on Thu Jul 18, 2013 at 08:03 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.

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