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The McActivists

(article, Culinate staff)

Have you heard of the McBudget? It's the by-now-notorious collection of financial tips provided by McDonald's to its employees, telling them how to scrape by on their fast-food wages. 

As Tom Philpott pointed out, an essential element of the McBudget is getting a second job to supplement those insufficient-to-live-on Mickey D's dollars.

In the Wall Street Journal, Al Lewis wrote that the sample budget "left out useful items like food, heat and gasoline, advancing the argument that nobody can really live on minimum wage." He demanded that McDonald's chief executive, Don Thompson — who took home nearly $14 million last year — try living on minimum wage: "Show the world how to live like a CEO on less than $25,000 a year."

And the Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., called the McBudget a McInsult: "The most vexing thing about that budget is its condescension. Take it from this welfare mother’s son: If there’s one thing poor people do not need, it is lessons in how to be poor."

Even if McDonald's doubled its wages, according to a new study, the price of a Big Mac would only go up by 68 cents. So it's little wonder that fast-food workers are fed up. As Philpott added, "Hence recent strikes by Walmart workers, as well as walk-offs by fast-food employees in New York City, Detroit, Seattle, and St. Louis, and fast-food/retail worker strikes in Chicago and Milwaukee."

Yesterday fast-food workers walked off the job around the country, asking for higher wages and the right to unionize. The protest movement is trying to include retail workers as well as fast-food laborers, on the grounds that they're all rocking in the same low-paid ship together.

Chief among those retail employers is Walmart, the megasupermarket chain. Walmart, of course, has long been the target of protests over its low wages and lack of worker rights, as well as gripes that the chain was being subsidized by the federal government via tax breaks, free land, grants, and the like.

Two Congressional reports — one issued in May, the other back in 2004 — have concluded that Walmart is also federally subsidized via Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, Section 8 housing, and other forms of public assistance. The only difference is in the reports' estimate of how much each Walmart store costs taxpayers; the 2004 report guessed about $400,000 per store, while the 2013 report ballparked each store between $900,000 and $1.75 million.

In response, the state of California recently introduced legislation that would fine Walmart $6,000 for every full-time employee who qualified for California's Medicaid program. And the District of Columbia has imposed higher wage requirements on Walmart; the company is now refusing to build its proposed D.C. stores. 

Intrigued? Check out Walmart Subsidy Watch, a website that calculates federal Walmart subsidies for each state. Maybe soon there will be fast-food spinoffs. Burger King Watch, anyone?