Would An Increase Minimum Wage Force Us To Pay The Real Price For Our Burgers?


The area of fast food is one that brings a lot of emotions to the forefront. People have opinions on why people should not eat at the popular fast food chains such as McDonald’s and those opinions have seen a number of changes in the fast food industry. A more recent, and even more controversial issue that has come up related to fast food is the wages that workers should be paid.

For many, workers at fast food establishments are well aware of the fact that working at a fast food restaurant is not the path to financial independence. It is common knowledge that fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King, do not pay their workers high wages. In fact, fast food workers typically get paid minimum wage, in some cases slightly more. This wage issue has become a tremendous concern, and battle, for those that not only work in the industry but also those that are supporting the concept of workers receiving a wage that will not only make paying for the necessities of life more feasible but can provide those workers with more buying power.

Concerns about Increased Minimum Wage

When looking at the wages of the head CEO’s of fast food chains it is apparent that the money should be there to pay the workers in the restaurants. An article by Anna Brones stated, “In 2013, the CEO of YUM! (who owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut) was paid $22 million. Chipotle’s got $13.8 million, and McDonald’s brought in $7.7 million.” If the CEOs of these fast food chains are drawing in millions of dollars increasing the wages of the workers in the actual restaurants should not cause that much of an impact on the overall costs.

There is a tremendous debate over whether or not an increase of the minimum wage to the desired $15 an hour would cause strain on the costs of running each chain restaurant and the impact the wage hike would have on the cost of the fast food fare that people visit McDonald’s and Burger King to consume. The estimations of some economists show that, “a $15 wage increase would raise fast food prices around 60%, bringing a $3 hamburger to $3.60. Even that price hike doesn’t account for the real cost of a hamburger. But it gets us closer.”

What is the Real Cost of Fast Food Burgers?

This is a question that may confuse many. The real cost of a burger is not related to the cost of making the burger itself but it also takes into account all of the externalities that come about as a direct result of the production and consumption of fast food fare. Research was done related to all of the calculable external costs of fast food. This research takes into account things such as obesity and carbon generation.

The issues related to how eating a diet filled with fast food can affect a person’s weight and overall health is common knowledge. People are aware that eating fast food may be convenient for those with busy lives, and it may even be budget friendly, but in the greater scheme of things, eating a diet high in fast food, which includes burgers and fries, can have a number of detrimental effects on one’s health.

With respect to the impact the raising of the cattle for the fast food fare, and topics like cheese have on the carbon footprint is more startling. In his article about the true costs of burgers, Mark Bittman shared the following:

“Environmental Working Group’s “Meat Eater’s Guide” (2011) estimates the carbon footprint of beef cattle at 27 pounds of CO2 equivalent per pound; the use of “spent” dairy beef in burger meat reduces that slightly, but we can say that each pound of burger meat accounts for roughly 25 pounds of CO2 emissions. (Cheese counts, too: It produces 13.5 pounds of CO2 equivalent per pound, and even bread has a carbon footprint.)

When this information is translated into the cost of your burger at your favorite fast food chain the numbers vary. Bittman stated, “The monetary value of the carbon emissions produced by the average cheeseburger might range from 15 cents (the official government rate), to 24 cents (conservative independent sources) and $1.20 (high independent). The average of these three estimates comes out to 53 cents per burger.”

The real cost of a hamburger is not just the increased prices that could come from the workers being paid a higher wage, as it would be possible to maintain the same prices even at the desired $15 wage workers wish to earn. The real cost of the burger and fast food fare is the impact it has on the environment and people’s health.

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