In 2013, the CEO of YUM! (who owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) was paid $22 million. Chipotle’s got $13.8 million, and McDonald’s brought in $7.7 million. That makes the fast food worker fight for $15 an hour seem incredibly small by comparison.
While many are rallying behind the $15 minimum wage for the country’s four million fast-food workers, the movement does have its opponents. In an industry where the average fast food worker makes $9, the proposed wage would be an average 67% increase. The restaurant industry has said that would completely change the fast food industry, raising prices and forcing the elimination of some jobs.
While business owners certainly fear the threat of a price increase — high prices may mean fewer customers — there’s one thing that we have forgotten to bring up in the debate: the externalized costs of fast food.
Fast food has remained cheap because we don’t pay all of the costs associated with it, with employee wages just one of the many aspects. One economist estimated that a $15 wage increase would raise fast food prices around 60%, bringing a $3 hamburger to $3.60. Even that price hike doesn’t account for the real cost of a hamburger. But it gets us closer.
As Mark Bittman recently pointed out in an article, the real cost of a burger is far beyond what we see on the menu at the fast food restaurant. And maybe it’s time that the price tag reflected more of the actual price.
Calculating a variety of environmental costs, Bittman found that these increased the price of a cheeseburger by about 53 cents. Not the mention the health costs associated with a junk food diet. The annual medical cost of obesity in America these days is around $231 billion.
Sure, that’s a more expensive burger, but it’s a more correctly priced burger. Fast food has been cheap because we have kept it cheap, and at a great cost to society. Maybe it’s time that we started paying more for fast food upfront instead of dealing with all the externalized costs on the backend.
A $15 an hour minimum wage for the fast food industry means more money in the hands of the fast food worker, who’s not just a fast food worker, but an active member of society. That means that they have more buying power.
“You have to stay in the $15 fight until it is a reality. When you raise people’s wages and it raises the standard of living and you increase purchasing power, you actually not only do the right thing morally, but you do the right thing economically, and the whole country is blessed,” Rev. William Barber told protestors at a recent labor gathering.
If we consider the cost of paying people a correct salary, the cost of providing the public with good, healthy food and the cost of doing the right thing for the environment, maybe it is in fact the moment to accept the era of expensive fast food. Because that’s what it really should cost.
Photo Credit: wEnDy