Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 15, 2013
Proponents of higher wages for fast-food workers will be able to add a new report from the University of California at Berkeley to their arsenal.
In the report released Tuesday, researchers conclude taxpayers, including Georgians, pay a hefty price when fast-food workers rely on public assistance to help make ends meet, whether it’s for Medicaid health insurance coverage for adults and children, or food stamps. The UC-Berkeley study suggests that if fast-food workers were paid more money, they would rely less on public assistance and your tax dollars.
Researchers said 61 percent of Georgia’s 74,000 fast-food workers receive some form of public assistance, compared with 52 percent of fast-food workers nationally and 25 percent of workers overall. The assistance costs Georgia taxpayers an average $297 million annually, researchers said.
Fast-food workers have been holding protests, including temporary walkouts, in recent weeks to demand pay hikes to as much as $15 an hour. The protests have been spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union and community groups.
Researchers said the median pay of $8.69 an hour for non-managerial fast-food workers, who mostly work part time, is not enough income for life’s basic necessities.
Business owners, however, many of them small franchisees, oppose an increase in the minimum wage, citing thin profit margins that could hinder growth, force them to hire fewer workers or even go out of business.
The group Atlanta Jobs with Justice discussed the findings Tuesday in front of a downtown Burger King and Popeyes Chicken & Biscuit. “We are not targeting any local franchise owners,” organizer Roger Sikes said later in an email to the AJC. “We are focusing on the corporate offices of the national and multi-national fast-food corporations.”
The public assistance studied included the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a cash assistance program.
Fast-food workers nationally receive about $7 billion in public assistance a year, researchers said, a small portion of the $386 billion in public assistance that all work groups received annually between 2007 and 2011, the period researchers studied.
Researchers relied on government data from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. and employment and public benefits data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (See AJC reporter Dan Chapman's recent report: Low-wage jobs play outsized role in Georgia's economy).