Sep 16, 2013

There is this new, hip burger joint in Detroit called Moo Cluck Moo (all right, it’s a SmashBurger knock-off) which is becoming famous for paying its workers a minimum of $15 per hour.

OK, it’s not $43/hr, but the title was to prove a point and ask a question. If you haven’t eaten at one of these new burger joints, they’re great! I mean great, they’re great if you love a great burger, fries and shake and a “fast food” bill of $50 for a family of four!

BTW, the sweet potato fries at SmashBurger will be on my death row/final meal menu.

But really, how much should a fast food worker be paid? Is $15/hr really a living wage?

How well do you live on $15/hr?

Well, $15/hr equates to about $31,000 before taxes. If you take out taxes, health insurance co-pays, etc., for argument’s sake, let’s say that $31,000 is now $22,000. And $22,000 is fairly realistic, right?

So, $22,000 is about $1,800 per month. Let’s break down the expenses:

  • Crappy apartment – $600/month (Editor’s note: Tim lives in Michigan. Your perception of the going rent for a crappy apartment may vary);
  • Crappy car payment – $250/month;
  • Crappy car gas – $200/month;
  • Crappy car insurance – $100/month;
  • iPhone 5 – $100/month (you know this is true!);
  • Crappy apartment utilities (electric, gas, cable) – $150/month;
  • Food (other than your fast food meals you get while working) – $300/month.

That’s $1,700. Let’s say we’ll leave the extra $100 for emergencies, shall we?

Is this living?

Why this is not realistic

Now, let’s look at it from McDowell’s standpoint (the fast food place Eddie Murphy works at in the movie Coming to America). Unlike their “fast food” friends at Moo Cluck Moo – where the average check for a family of four is north of $40 — the average check for a family of four to eat at McDowell’s is probably closer to $25. That extra $15 per check at Moo Cluck Moo does a lot. It definitely makes it easier to pay $15/hr.

My point isn’t that we should be paying fast food workers more. Someone choosing a career in the fast food arts shouldn’t expect to make a “living wage,” they should expect to make a wage you can’t live on.

I love that Moo Cluck Moo is pushing the envelope in paying service workers, and showing others that it can be done, on a small scale. Can places like McDowell’s do it?

They could. Are you willing to pay $15-$20 more per meal for your family to eat at McDowell’s? No, you’re not.

A living wage is possible, if you pay more too

You will at Moo Cluck Moo, because it’s cool and hip and good. But you can’t do that all the time. It’s not sustainable on your living wage as a teacher, or accountant. So, you sometimes have to go the cheaper route and eat at places like McDowell’s.

Simple economics will tell us that selling $.99 Double Cheeseburgers does not allow you to pay your hourly staff $15/hr and stay in business. Charge $5 for that Double Cheeseburger, and you can now pay $15/hr wages. But, you will also have a drastic decrease in customers, so you’ll have to lay off most of your staff. But those who remain will certainly be happy making $15/hr!

You can’t have it Fast, Good, and Cheap. You must give up something.

Want McDowell’s to pay their workers a “living wage?” Show them you won’t go away in droves and eat elsewhere when they double their prices.

You won’t do that. If you won’t change, why should they?

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

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