Folbre: McDonald’s a monument to low-wages for workers

This post by UMass Amherst Department of Economics Professor Emeritus Nancy Folbre was originally published on July 22, 2013 by The New York Times.

The 300 Billionth Burger
by Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre

The monument is a towering one. Only ballpark estimates are available, because McDonald’s stopped posting estimates of its cumulative burger sales when they reached 99 billion in 1994. But the company is on track to hit the 300 billion mark in the near future, if it hasn’t already.

With total revenue that exceeds the gross domestic product of Ecuador, McDonald’s is virtually a culinary country of its own. Not surprisingly, it has become a recurrent focus of political contention.

This year’s protests against the low pay of its employees reflect larger concerns about the decline of good jobs in the United States, and the company’s recently published personal budgeting advice reflects remarkably widespread disregard for people trying to get by on poverty-level wages.

A company that can sell 300 billion burgers clearly knows how to respond to consumer concerns. As Eric Schlosser explains in “Fast Food Nation,” McDonald’s moved relatively quickly to improve standards of humane treatment for the (nonhuman) animals in its supply chain. In the wake of bad publicity from Morgan Spurlock’s film “Supersize Me,” the company made significant efforts to improve the nutritional value of its menu. Last year, the company took the lead in a commitment to post calorie counts for every item.

Of course, the company’s nutritional impact is influenced by policies over which it has little direct control. In the United States, Big Macs cost less than a salad largely because our agricultural policies subsidize the price of meat far more generously than the prices of fresh vegetables and fruits.

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