Posted on: December 20, 2019 at 12:52 pm
Last updated: July 26, 2020 at 12:46 pm

The average worker in a fast-food restaurant in the United States gets paid $9.36 per hour. For a full-time employee, that adds up to less than $350 per week, less than $1500 per month, and barely $15 thousand per year [1].

In contrast, the CEO of McDonald’s makes over 23 million dollars in a year. For those of you keeping track, that is 3 101 times as much money as the vast majority of McDonald’s employees [2].

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Cierra Brown’s Story

Cierra Brown works part-time at McDonald’s in Durham, North Carolina. Her car broke down, so instead of a 25-minute drive to work, it takes her two hours each way to get to her $9.50 per hour job [3]. 

She has another job as well, but took a second at the fast food chain to try to save up money for a new car. The only problem is, with such a low wage, she can’t save any money after paying for rent, groceries, and transportation to and from work [3].

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What’s more, Cierra is diabetic, and without benefits she has to pay all medical expenses out-of-pocket, which makes it even more impossible for her to get ahead [3].

“I feel like I’m not progressing—I’m not able to do anything beyond my basic needs. And I know I’m not the only one struggling with these poverty wages” she explained [3].

Cierra spoke with Vice Media and described a typical week in her life balancing 2 jobs and trying to make ends meet.

The Plight of the Working Poor in America

The unemployment rate is a common method of assessing how well a country is doing economically. Interestingly enough, the unemployment rate in the United States has been steadily dropping, and is at its lowest point in decades at only 3.8 percent [5].

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This statistic, unfortunately, does not tell the whole story. In order for someone to qualify as “employed”, all they need to do is have a job, regardless if that job is enough for them to live on.

The problem, then, is not a lack of quantity, but of quality. There are millions of college graduates who can’t get work in their fields and end up in minimum wage positions, contract workers with no job security, and part-time workers who can’t get full-time hours [6].

An alarming eighty percent of Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck [7].

What’s even more shocking, is that even people who are making a six-figure salary are living with so much debt that they are still struggling to make ends meet [8].

“Fixed expenses are increasing at a faster rate than incomes, making it harder to live the lifestyle our parents lived,” said Mandi Woodruff, MagnifyMoney’s executive editor [8].

If someone making over $100000 per year is unable to cover all of their expenses, what hope does someone like Cierra, making less than one sixth of that income, have at getting ahead?

Fight for $15

Brown’s struggle is what spurred her to join a political movement called “Fight for $15 and a Union”, which advocates for a fifteen dollar minimum wage [3].

“Fight for $15 and a Union” is a nation-wide movement fighting for a minimum wage increase for underpaid workers across the United States. Their mission is to speak out against corporate greed, and lessen the gap between employees earnings and the billions of dollars of profit these companies make every year [4].

For people like Cierra, this movement has given them a voice, and is often the only thing that keeps them going every day.

“I share about my daily struggle—working since age 14, often having to rely on food stamps while working full time for McDonald’s, no health insurance, always worried about making ends meet. There’s no way for me to face these realities without the Fight for $15 and a Union,” said Brown [3].

How To Get Involved

There are three ways to get involved in Fight for $15:

  1. Sign the petition to the right to stand with underpaid workers everywhere and get on our email list. We’ll send you word on any updates, breaking news, and upcoming actions straight in your inbox.
  2. Next, take out your cell phone and text JOIN to 64336 to get on our rapid-response text message list.
  3. Finally – and most importantly – organize your workplace and take the fight to the streets. Every year, thousands of underpaid workers protest, march, and rally for $15/hr and union rights. We need you out there with us – and we’ll be in touch soon with our next action.

You can visit the Fight for $15 website for support and instructions on how to organize your own strike.


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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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