Here's How Terrible McDonald's Wages Are Even After Its Pay Increase Stunt

The secret ingredient in the Big Mac's special sauce has always been poverty-level wages.
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The secret ingredient in the Big Mac's special sauce has always been poverty-level wages.
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Would you like some lies and misdirection with your shitty fast-food job? McDonald's recently announced it would begin paying $1 per hour above the prevailing minimum wage in each state, a significant raise in percentage terms, but a pittance compared to the $15 an hour organizers are actually attempting to extract from the creepy corporate clown.

Of course, McDonald's shouldn't get any points for offering slightly more than the absolute bare minimum. Voctativdid the math and found that the increase pushes workers in just 21 states past the living wage for a single earner without dependents. A single mother with a child? Forget about it. In every state, McDonalds' falls far short of being a provider. The actual wages a single mom needs to support herself and her child varies between $6.73 to a staggering $16.34 an hour more than the Golden Arches' new offer.

In the meantime, McDonald's is doing extremely poorly. Profits were down 30% in third-quarter 2014 -- the fourth straight quarter of declining sales -- and their stores are continually being protested by angry workers who demand a living wage. Its new CEO is trying to turn the chain around by "focusing on food" and wants McDonald's to be more like fast-casual establishments such as Smashburger and Chipotle with pro-worker and environmentally-friendly branding. (Just check out their "sustainable" beef!) A cheap ploy designed to cash in on the burgeoning "ethical" market is just what Mayor McCheese ordered.

But the secret ingredient in the Big Mac's special sauce has always been poverty-level wages. While McDonald's might be willing to talk the talk, it is most certainly not willing to change anything really meaningful. In fact, it is almost certainly approaching the pay-raise issue as a sneaky tactic to undermine a federal minimum wage increase. If McDonald's and enough other exploitative companies all raise their pay rates to slightly above the minimum, then their allies in Congress can point to these minor sacrificial offerings as evidence that reform isn't really necessary. The market is already doing it on its own.

The entire Golden Arches enterprise is structured around not just cheap labor, but the cheapest labor possible. Like every other evil company, McDonald's fires union organizers. Its own budgeting advice to its workers is get a second full-time job. Which is nearly impossible, by the way, since McDonald's scheduling system is a Kafkaesque nightmare that assigns erratic work at the last minute. Most of its workers in the U.K., for example, are on zero-hour contracts that ensure employees are usually on call but only sporadically paid.

McDonald's has so thoroughly mechanized and routinized its operations that many of its employees could literally be replaced with simple machines, so it has little incentive to treat them as anything but. When a cashier can be replaced by touchscreens and a machine can make fresh burgers that frankly look better than McDonald's teenager-fried options, there may be a time in the future when your typical fast-food restaurant has no regular workers at all (or just a few token ones). A company that has so systematically devalued its workforce won't (and perhaps can't) just turn around, but it might be willing to throw a few pennies to distract the pitchfork and torch-toting mob gathering at the edge of the premises.

If the Golden Arches genuinely wanted to elevate the living conditions of its employees, then it would announce a high pay rate indexed to inflation. It wouldn't propose a one-time pay raise that adjusts to much less money than it was paying fry cooks and mayonnaise jockeys a few decades ago. With the U.S. labor movement dead as a doornail or running scared, though, I'm not holding out any hope for a better offer.