Slow Progress for Fast – Food Workers

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By John Schmitt and Janelle Jones,

from Center for Economic & Policy Research,

… fast-food workers have gone on strike in seven U.S. cities. Their demand for a $15 per hour minimum wage in their industry–about $30,000 per year for a full-time worker, typically with no benefits – has underscored just how low the $7.25 federal minimum wage is relative to what workers need to get by. One argument frequently made against higher wages for fast-food workers is that the industry is dominated by teenagers and workers with less than a high school degree, who somehow “deserve” the low wages they receive.

An analysis of government data on fast-food workers, however, tells a different story. First of all, only about 30 percent of fast-food workers are teenagers. Another 30 percent are between the ages of 20 and 24. The remaining 40 percent are 25 and older. (All the data we
present here are from the government’s Current Population Survey, where we have combined data for the years 2010 through 2012 in order to provide a large enough sample for analysis.) Half of fast-food workers are 23 or older. Many teenagers do work in fast-food, but the majority of fast-food workers are not teenagers.

Given the age structure of fast-food workers, it shouldn’t be surprising that the same government data show that more than one fourth are raising at least one child. Among those age 20 and older, more than one third are raising children.

Over 70 percent of all fast-food workers have at least a high school degree and more than 30 percent have had at least some college education. If we limit the analysis to the 70 percent of fast-food workers that are not teenagers, the educational outcomes are even better: almost 85 percent have a high school degree or more and over one-third have spent at least some time in college (including about 6 percent who have earned a college diploma).

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