Fast Food's Cheap Meals Cost Us All

Hidden Public Costs of Low Wage Food Service Jobs in Wisconsin
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October 15, 2013

Contact: Laura Dresser | 608-262-6944 |

Fast food workers in Wisconsin make so little money that they routinely rely on government programs in order to make ends meet. The public costs of fast food jobs amount to $166 million in the state of Wisconsin, according to a new study released today by the University of California Berkeley.


The report, Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry, provides an overview of the $200 billion fast food industry. Wages, hours, and benefits are low in the industry, offering front-line workers $8.69 per hour at the median while only 13 percent of workers nationally receive health insurance benefits.


As a result, the report finds that many fast food workers in Wisconsin must rely on federal assistance – Food Stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid (via BadgerCare) – to make ends meet. Indeed, more than one-in-three of the state’s 28,000 fast food workers rely on these programs. And the programs that support these hard working Wisconsinites cost the public $166 million each year.


Nationally, fast food workers are twice as likely to rely on public assistance as workers in other industries. Even when workers have full time hours, they still must rely on public assistance. And while there is comfort in the idea that these are teenage workers, there is little truth there. Two of three fast food workers are adults 20 years or older.


A related report from the National Employment Law Project, also released today, found that the ten biggest fast-food corporations are responsible for nearly 60 percent (or $3.8 billion) of the almost $7 billion in public costs associated with their low-wage, no-benefit business model. These same corporations made $7.4 billion in profits in 2012.


“These reports help draw attention to the hidden public costs of low wage jobs,” said Laura Dresser of COWS and an expert on low-wage work, “Public programs to support workers are important. But decent work – in hours, wages, and benefits – is a requirement as well. Too many jobs pay too little to make ends meet. And this is especially true in fast food.”


UC Berkeley report link here:


NELP report link here: