McDonald’s Admits (Accidentally) That You Just Can’t Live on Minimum Wage

Corporate website promises path to ‘financial freedom,’ but it looks like servitude instead.

McDonald’s on Minimum Wage

Ronald McDonald really wants employees to take control of their finances! (Photo: Miguel Vaca/Flickr)

Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Want to get a glimpse of what it means to live on a fast-food worker’s wages in 2013? You can read the Bloomberg profile of a 20-year veteran on the lowest rung of the industry, written by Leslie Patton late last year (heartbreaking). Or, ironically, you can head to one of McDonald’s’ own websites, specifically “Practical Money Skills,” which the company created in tandem with Visa to give financial tips to its army of low-wage employees.

The site (no doubt created by a team of well-compensated, fully insured professionals with great dental coverage) offers access to a sample budget journal, because “[k]nowing where your money goes and how to budget it is the key to your financial freedom.”

And what does that “freedom” look like if you’re the average fry cook?

First, it seems to go without saying that you’re going to be working not one job but two. McDonald’s’ sample budget includes lines for income from “1st job” and “2nd job,” as if that’s just par for the course.

And based on an average minimum wage of about $7.50 per hour, you’re never going to get to enjoy all the amenities of your “$600 per month” apartment—which, given you’re only paying “$50 per month” for heat, you probably don’t want to spend much time in anyway from November through March.

No, there’s not a lot of time to kick back in your modern-day tenement in this budget, because you’re apparently working almost 70 hours a week.

Want more free time? Well, if you rely solely on your income from McDonald’s, you end up with about $300 at the end of the month, once you factor in the website’s lowball estimates for housing, car payment and utilities (not to mention the pie-in-the-sky $20 per month “health insurance” you supposedly qualify for).

That’s right: $300 per month to pay for such necessities as gas, clothing and—oh, you know—food.

Beyond the sample budget, which would be laughable were it not indicative of a reprehensible kind of corporate gloss over a virulent strain of economic injustice, the “Practical Money Skills” site is telling in other ways.

For example, take the section “Money Guides,” which promises to help you “Live Smart® during all of life’s financial events (yes, “Live Smart®” is somehow trademarked here). And what has McDonald’s decided are the most likely “financial events” its minimum-wage employees will encounter? “Renting an apartment” and “buying a car.”

No need to link to Charles Schwab; no need to “talk to Chuck” here. Because you’re not going to be saving to buy a house, apparently, or send the kids to college or (ha!) retire.

There is another link that, at least in the context of the growing unease I had cruising the site, seemed ominous: “Welcome to the Real World.”

And what does that take you to? Another website, this one offering “handy guides to paying off student loans, searching for a job and handling post-grad paperwork—info just for recent grads like you!”

Why does this just seem like cruel irony? Maybe because the Bureau of Labor Statistics now reports that most fast-food workers are…over the age of 32.

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