On Labor Day: Fast Food Workers Demand Higher Wages but Employers Know an Endless Flow of Illegal Immigrants Will Work for Short Pay

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

August 30, 2013

The latest CBS Money Watch economic report may spoil your Labor Day weekend. [Fast Food Strike Underline Big National Problem, by Erik Sherman, Moneywatch, August 29, 2013]

Even though CEO salaries and bonuses are at record highs relative to other workers, fast food restaurant employees are so underpaid that they are striking in cities nationwide and demanding $15 an hour wages, as well as a greater ability to unionize. The nearly 3 million fast food workers earn $9 an hour, and cannot sustain themselves on that low income, let alone raise a family.  (Read CEO 2012 pay report here)

On the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistic issues the latest job creation employment data. In July, BLS reported that 162,000 jobs were created and that the unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent, a four-year low.

Under-reported is that most of those jobs are in the low-paying service and retail industries, are part-time or both. This miserable employment market has led to a new phrase: Part-Time America. Thousands of businesses, especially in retail and fast-food, have already capped employment for many workers at 30 hours. Translation: a worker’s weekly net pay check is about $225; he gets no health insurance, no paid vacation and no pension. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimates that the average fast food worker, assuming working 52 weeks without vacation, makes about $12,355. The federal poverty guideline for a single person is $11,490.

If you’re looking for the silver lining, the most optimistic take is that at least fast food employees have a job. Last month, Americans looking for full-time work, but unable to find it, leapt to 8.23 million, a 322,000 one-month increase. Total part-time employment rose by 432,000, more than double the total number of net new jobs. Finally, a huge jump of 247,000 occurred in the number of "discouraged workers," those who have stopped looking for a job. [Part-Time America, Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2013]

If you think that fast food workers are mostly high school kids earning spending money, you could not be more wrong. The average worker’s age is 28, with 70 percent 20 years old or older, according to statistics compiled by AOL Jobs. One out of four has at least one child. A third has at least some college education. And, according to the National Employment Law Project, there is “limited occupational mobility,” so the positions rarely lead to higher paying management positions, let alone allow the workers to earn enough to one day own franchises.

The restaurant industry relies heavily on illegal immigrant workers. For those who don’t like the $12,355 annual salary, there’s a long waiting line of eager aliens willing to take the job.

Next week, Congress returns to Capitol Hill. High on its fall agenda is legalizing 11 million illegal immigrants, thereby giving them work permits, and importing 30 million more overseas workers during the next two decades. Given the existing economic conditions and the widespread suffering among Americans, even the briefest consideration of adding workers to the bloated labor pool is reprehensible.

According to an exclusive Associated Press survey, four out of five U.S. adults have struggled with joblessness, near-poverty or welfare reliance for at least parts of their lives, a sure signal that economic security and the American dream is beyond the reach of more than half the nation’s adult population. [80 Percent of Americans Face Near- Poverty, Unemployment, Survey Finds, CBS News, July 28, 2013]

Please go to the CAPS Legislative Action Center to FAX your representative that you oppose amnesty in any form.

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