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Fast food strikes are food for middle class thought

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As reported on NBC Miami, fast food workers at a variety of leading chain restaurants walked off the job today and were joined by supporters at rallies all across Florida and in hundreds of cities nationwide.

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The actions are intended to draw public attention and support for raising the minimum wage to a "living wage" that can help lift the working poor like those in the fast food industry out of poverty and into the mainstream consumer economy.

A living wage is described by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:

an amount of money you are paid for a job that is large enough to provide you with the basic things (such as food and shelter) needed to live an acceptable life."

In the 15th Annual Job Gap study for 2013 that was released earlier this week by Orlando-based advocacy organization Organize Now, the minimum wage needed to be considered a living wage in Florida ranges from $16.84 for a single adult to $19.74 for a household of 2 parents and 2 children.

The bad news is that the minimum wage in Florida is currently $7.79. And it doesn't get much better in 2014, increasing only to $7.93.

Fast food workers and other hard-working poor people, like hotel and motel workers, know all too well that a 14-cent hourly pay increase will not solve the problem.

The 2013 Job Gap report zeroes in on just how serious the problem is in the Sunshine State, where so many people are employed in low-wage service industry jobs:

In September, the Orlando Sentinel found that Orlando’s median pay “ranks last among the nation’s 50 biggest metropolitan areas, and it has the largest share of jobs — 37% —paying less than $25,000 a year.” That low pay extends beyond Orlando; the Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy at Florida International University found that, in 2012, 214,000 workers in Florida had incomes at or below minimum wage, representing a 6.68% increase annually since 2002. This represents the second largest total number of workers with earnings at or below the minimum wage in the country."

While many in the general public have the misconception that most fast food workers are teenagers, or that these jobs pay enough to live on if you try hard enough, or that workers' poverty is their own problem or fault; another major study released in October paints a much clearer picture:

  • Almost 70-percent of fast-food workers are adults aged 20 and older who are the primary wage-earners for their families. More than 25-percent are parents trying to raise children.
  • More than half of full-time fast food workers are so poor that they require public assistance to meet their families' basic needs for food, housing/utilities, healthcare and transportation - more than double the rate of any other job sector.
  • In Florida the annual cost to taxpayers of the public assistance required for working poor fast food employees and their families is nearly $350 million.

Struggling workers, their families and supporters are hoping and praying that ongoing actions like today's will help get the facts out and sinking in among middle class taxpayers who hold the key to making change, raising questions like these:

  • Is it fair or right for fast food workers to be paid too little to live on by corporations making record-breaking billions in profits and paying record-breaking millions to top executives?
  • Is it fair or right for middle class taxpayers to have to cover the cost of public assistance for workers forced onto it because they don't get paid a living wage by those corporations?
  • Don't conservative claims that "raising the minimum wage to a living wage would be bad for businesses and the economy" sound fishy or false, given the middle class taxpayer relief it would bring, and the shift of working, dependent poor people into self-sufficient consumers and taxpayers who can help boost local and national economies?
  • Based on careful consideration and answering of the questions above, are you ready to apply the phone calling and emailing pressure necessary to force legislators in Florida and nationwide to raise the minimum wage to a living wage?

It's the volume of affirmative answers to that last question that will determine how much longer Big Business, conservative politicians and media pundits arguing a largely illogical case for the status quo will continue to hold sway over a nation once known, ironically enough, as "The Land Of Opportunity".



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