Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Debunking the Heritage Foundation’s New Minimum Wage Myths One by One

September 12th, 2014 | Jiao Lan

The Heritage Foundation released a new Issue Brief this week: “Higher Fast-Food Wages: Higher Fast Food Prices”. Author James Sherk claims that if the minimum wage in the fast-food industry were to increase to $15 an hour, “the average fast-food restaurant would have to raise prices by nearly two-fifths … caus[ing] sales to drop by more than one-third, and profits to fall by more than three-quarters.”

While the Heritage Foundation attempts to present a mathematically and logically correct depiction of the aftermath of a minimum-wage increase, they fail to acknowledge one fundamentally important fact: the increase will be gradual, occurring over a period of years. Even without considering the report’s many other flaws, the Heritage Foundation’s assumption of a sudden jump in the minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 to $15 is unrealistic.

As Vanessa Wong highlights in “This is What Would Happen if Fast-Food Workers Got Raises”, there are two distinct types of outlets: “those run by the company, and those operated by independent franchisees who set their own wages and pay royalties to the chain.” Thus, Heritage Foundation hastily categorized all fast-food restaurants as one, not even considering the elephant in the room: the corporations such as McDonald’s that charge each branch high franchising fees.

So, how much are these small franchisees paying the mother-ship corporations? According to Robert E. Bond’s “How Much Can I Make?” the franchise fee, royalties, and advertising for a typical McDonald’s is $45,000, +12.5%, and 4%. For a doughnut shop like Dunkin’ Donuts, the fees are even higher, with a franchise fee of $50,000.

If Heritage’s figures are correct, these fast-food restaurants have a profit margin of just 3 percent before taxes, which “works out to approximately $27,000 a year.”  Thus, the franchise fee and royalties are way too high — those profits go directly to, in this case, McDonald’s, which  operates at a profit margin of 19.31% as of June 30, 2014.

McDonald’s and other large fast-food companies have successfully shrugged off responsibility for the welfare of its workers by making the franchisees responsible. The low-wage jobs — and the cost of these salaries — are offloaded on the franchisees, while the corporations maintain their guaranteed profits, and relative profit margins from quarter to quarter.

Raising the minimum wage — even if only to $10.10, not to the living wage level of $15 an hour — is an economic imperative. Heritage believes that fast-food restaurants still offer “entry level jobs,” and “generally employ younger and less-experienced workers”.

Fast-food restaurants used to be a place for “entry level employees” — teens and young adults, sometimes still in school, newly entering the workforce. The recession drastically changed the dynamic. Today, at fast-food restaurants, we see the faces of older workers on the other side of the counter. Many are parents who rely on their full-time fast-food jobs to support themselves and their families. Instead of providing a “first work experience”, fast-food jobs are now a primary  source of income for older, experienced workers.

The problem, once again, is corporations. Individual fast-food restaurants should not be the only battlefront in the fight for livable wages. We should demand that the mother-ship fast-food corporations let go of their greed, and lower their franchise fees and annual royalties.

The Heritage Foundation points its finger in the wrong direction: the responsibility for providing minimum wage fast-food workers with a livable wage falls on the corporations.

This article originally appeared in Campaign for America’s Future on September 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20140910/debunking-the-heritage-foundations-new-minimum-wage-myths-one-by-one.

About the author: Jiao (Kitty) Lan is a Roosevelt Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. She is a sophomore at Georgetown University, majoring in Political Economy and Financial Engineering and has taken an interest in Computer Science in her first two semesters. She has had several political internships, including one with Rep. Mike Honda and one with Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her top three anything are Pops cereal, her two tiny yet vivacious Pomeranians, and traveling the world.

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