McBudget – What Do You Think?

McBudget – What Do You Think? July 30, 2013

Nobody listens to the low wage workers of the world… really… nobody. Lately their tactic has been to organize one day strikes to draw attention to their struggle. In recent weeks, employees having been staging one day walk-outs to make their point. What’s their point? Their point is that wages for CEOs in America rose over 16% last year to an average of $15 million/yr. Low wage workers have seen their wages flat line – no raise. Interestingly McDonald’s teamed up with Visa to prove their low wage earners wrong. They produced a budget on which their employees could live. Here’s a look at what they came up with.

The McBudget is causing quite an uproar. Most experts say that it is totally unrealistic, the health insurance cost is probably the most absurd. Stephen Colbert said that the $20 could probably buy you “a tourniquet, a bottle of Night Train and a bite stick.” Sadly more accurate than most of us would like to imagine.

The income side is way too high. It forgets payroll tax and social security, which would reduce total monthly income around $150. It also assumes the ability to hold down two low-wage jobs. With kids, a junky-car and no education to speak of, that is harder than you think.

Expenses are off as well. The McBudget forgets $250 for gasoline, the other $200 for health insurance, $50/mo. for car maintenance, $100 for childcare, $50 for haircuts, and another $150 for groceries that food stamps won’t pay for, clothing, education expenses, and a plan for the fact that low wage workers don’t get paid vacation or sick leave. A little reality changes that $750 “spending money” into at least a $200 shortfall. The EITC and food stamps would help, but it’s not enough.

What’s the right thing to do? If you are at all interested in the subject I suggest you read three quick articles:

How She Lives On Minimum Wage: One McDonald Worker’s Budget
The article is about a Kansas City woman who is trying to make it work. You have to read this, and put yourself in her shoes.

McDonald’s Minimum Wage Budge Ignores Tax Credits, Food Stamps, and Reality
This is an interesting article that shows how through the EITC, most minimum wage families would receive a $3,000 EITC check, and food stamps of around $500 per month. The author points out that Congress is working to de-fund food stamps and the IRS’s attempts to stop identity theft that so often stops the EITC from reaching the right hands. It’s good to get a broader perspective on the issue.

‘McBudget” An Insult to Those Living in Poverty
This is an editorial by Leonard Pitts, writing for the Miami Herald. He makes perhaps the finest point of all. The McBudget argument is missing the point. The problem isn’t whether McDonald’s budget is accurate or not. The problem is that it’s incredibly condescending for them to write that budget in the first place. Somebody making $13 dollars a year (McDonald’s CEO), shouldn’t be doling out advice to someone making minimum wage on how to make it work. It’s unseemly. Pitts suggests that the McDonald’s CEO should volunteer to live on minimum wage for six months just to prove it can be done. I think it’s a great idea.

Here’s my take: One of the most destabilizing realities present in our society is income inequality. When the disparity between the very rich and the very poor reaches a tipping point, it serves as an automatic trigger for civil unrest. This is fairly predictable. You think Occupy Wall Street was bad? Wait until next time when those who live in poverty get involved… things could get violent in a hurry. Income disparity is how civil wars/revolutions begin, and it has to be address.

The Christian (not American/or capitalist) point of view is this: you can best tell about the health of a culture by how the most vulnerable among them are doing. Are they thriving and flourishing or languishing and suffering? The fact is that there is a rapidly expanding lower class suffering in our culture, and things are getting worse all the time. The government is trying to help them, but it’s never going to be enough. The only way this turns around is if there is a massive change in values in our society.

Virtue is the key. It is a virtue to be super-wealthy in our society. That has to change.

If super-wealth was considered to be a vice – an impolite way to live, greedy, cruel, merciless… then fewer would aspire to it. If super-wealth gave you social disapproval instead of social approval things would begin to change. The only way our situation can change is if the entire power structure within corporate America began to have a change of heart, a change of values. Executive salaries would have to shrink and low-wage earners would have to make more money. The extremes would both need to come back toward the middle. Not a lot. Just a little.

Raising taxes on the rich won’t solve the problem. Neither will raising the minimum wage – although I think it should go up to at least $10. The reality is that there is no shortcut when it comes to justice. The only thing that can make the world a better place is a change of heart and life. The government can’t solve the problem with higher taxes, tax credits, programs, or incentives. The society as a whole has to get concerned about poverty and the super-rich need to experience a little social disapprobation. Until that happens, things will continue to get worse.

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  • scott stone


    Not much if anything to disagree with here. It’s astonishing how we are becoming a country of “two Americas.” I do have, maybe not another perspective but something to add to the conversation.

    Did you know that only 5.2% of all hourly workers make minimum wage? That’s a fairly low number when you look at the employment landscape. Also, of the 79 million workers who are paid hourly, 4M of them are under the age of 19. That means less than 5% of adults over the age of 19 make minimum wage. When I see a stat this low I tend to think that it may not be as big of an issue as we are lead to believe.

    I know income disparity is a big issue for you and I too am concerned. But what concerns me is that I think income disparity is the result of something that needs greater attention; education disparity. The gap between rich and poor is reflective of the gap in education. As someone who has had to navigate the advanced educational system for two of our three children, I tell you that it is brutal. I don’t know how a lower-middle class family (for the record, I despise these these terms. The word “class” in itself is disgusting but that’s for a whole different conversation.) can even afford to send their kids to college. They are these little entities that really don’t have anyone to answer to. UW has a $1.81B endowment. Think of that. They are sitting on $1.81B in cash. KU has a $1.25B endowment. That is obscene!

    You are entitled to rail against corporations but these little left wing entities are uncontrollable. Combine that with the OECD report that shows we spend more on secondary education than every nation but two in the whole world. If we want to close the gap between rich and poor then we need to start making education affordable.

    The only statement I’ll take issue with from you is this. “If super-wealth was considered to be a vice – an impolite way to live,
    greedy, cruel, merciless… then fewer would aspire to it. If super-wealth
    gave you social disapproval instead of social approval things
    would begin to change. The only way our situation can change is if the
    entire power structure within corporate America began to have a change
    of heart, a change of values.” I think you are misguided. The term “corporate CEO” is already a pejorative. I don’t think the corporate super wealthy are held in high esteem, I think the are looked at as evil. Everybody hates “the man.” If you want to make super-wealth to be looked at as a vice you should be targeting athletes and entertainers. They have far more cultural impact on people than a CEO of a corporation. Just some random thoughts.


  • Tim_Suttle

    Hey Scott, just now getting around to commenting back. First I’ll say that if you can get a conservative to engage on income inequality at all, their talking points always include the education/skills gap (which should just be called an opportunity gap). That doesn’t meant the opportunity gaps isn’t real – it is both real and important – but it typically serves as a sophistic slight of hand. Income and opportunity inequality are both serious issues and they are linked.

    I hope my critique of the super-wealthy doesn’t come off as a left or right thing. For me it’s not a political issue, it’s a gospel issue. Corporations are not right or left wing.

    I’m thinking about your CEO comment. My experience is very different. CEO is not a bad word in my world. It’s revered, aspired to. CEO is where many of my friends want to be someday, running a company larger or small. I want them there, too – practicing justice and being good to those around them, helping to provide meaningful work for others. I don’t think CEO should be pejorative. It’s an incredibly important role in our society.

    When I’m critical in this post, I’m talking about the super-wealthy, the 1%, or actually the .5% who control most of the resources in our society. They need to begin to feel some pressure about income inequality. Financial pressure will not work – they control the variables there. Political pressure will not work – that was the drastic result of Citizen’s United. All that is left is some sort of social pressure. If there was more social incentive for the uber-rich to stop rigging the game so that they win every time, maybe the marginalized could flourish.

    If you change the number to the percentage of adults working “at or near” minimum wage, the number goes much higher than 5%. Still, who are the 5%? They are the most vulnerable people in our society. We are obligated to make sure that it is possible for them to flourish.

    • scott stone

      Hey Tim,

      I hope I didn’t come off as insensitive when I was discussing education inequality/disparity. I wasn’t blaming the individual (though there is some personal accountability that has to be validated.) My issue is with the system of education. Just because you happen to live in a crappy area you shouldn’t be penalized with a second rate education. I’m a conservative communitarian and when I discuss income inequality and reference education disparity it is no talking point. It is a serious issue and a driving factor in the income gap.

      I truly understand your point about the super rich but I really depart with you when you talk about them rigging the game. The great thing about the U S A (actually one of the great things) is that it is not a zero sum game. Because somebody has more doesn’t mean I have less. I only know a few people in the top 1% (adjusted gross income of $343,927), and they seem like pretty nice people. They work in the community, give a heck of a lot to charity, drive their kids to baseball, etc.
      I think there is more to this problem of income disparity than the talking points on the left and the right. And honestly I’m trying to figure it out and see where I can help. Thanks for the reply.


      • Tim Suttle

        Hey Scott – keep it coming! I think you are certainly right that there is more to the problem. My heroes in theology point to a complex of issues that have our society rooted in a bad story: individualism, consumerism, nationalism, scarcity, violence seem to top the list.

        I like the communitarian label. Is there a group I can join? 🙂