Fast-food workers are walking off the job in 50 cities today, Bloomberg reports, demanding better pay and the right to organize. The growing protest movement has expanded to Boston, Denver, San Diego and many more American cities, but it began right here in Brooklyn when New York Communities for Change were fighting school closures in low-income neighborhoods. “Organizers shifted focus after hearing fast-food jobs were keeping local residents poor,” Bloomberg reports.
“People were really struggling,” one organizer, who had spoken to residents of Brownsville, Crown Heights and Flatbush, told the news source. “Probably the biggest employer in our neighborhoods was the fast-food industry.” (In Brownsville, the median household income is $15,042, according to the local community board. In DUMBO, for contrast, it’s $148,611.)
The first strike happened in November, when 200 New York employees walked off the job. By earlier this year, it had spread to the Midwest, and now it has taken root across the country (sort of like Occupy did). Fast food workers on average make $9/hour, or $18,700/year—if they worked full-time; most don’t. It’s what The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki calls “poverty-level pay.” (Go ahead, crunch the numbers.) Critics have lambasted the workers for expecting a living wage for an entry-level job, but Surowiecki explains that these are the only jobs available to many people.
“Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income,” he writes. “Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage…. low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income.”
Hey, did you know that, according to Bloomberg, “wealthy households boosted their net worth by 21.2 percent in the aftermath of the recession that ended in June 2009, while the rest of America lost 4.9 percent”? Must be because they work 21.2 percent harder than the rest of us. Anyway, happy early Labor Day.
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