Why I Work At McDonald's — & Still Have To Rely On Welfare

Photo: Courtesy of Larika Harris.
Larika Harris and her two children at a Fight for $15 rally.
Editor's note: This op-ed by Larika Harris was provided by BerlinRosen, a public relations company which consults for the Fight for $15 movement.

For most Americans, Tax Day is about W-4s or 1099s and making sure they are claiming all the deductions they’re entitled to.

For me, it’s a loud reminder that my family’s livelihood is largely dependent on taxpayers.

I get paid $7.65 an hour at McDonald’s — not nearly enough to support my two young kids. So I supplement that with federally subsidized child care, Medicaid, and food stamps — hundreds upon hundreds of dollars a month that help keep us afloat.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I didn’t plan on working in fast food. For two years, I was working as a certified nursing assistant, making almost $1,000 a week. But when I came back from maternity leave after my first pregnancy, my job had been given to someone else. With diapers to buy, I couldn’t be picky. I took the first job I found: a cashier position at McDonald’s for $7.25 an hour. I was promised a 10-cent raise every three months.
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I'd much rather stand on my own two feet, but when companies like McDonald’s pay wages so low, that’s impossible.

Four years later, I’m paid just $7.65 an hour.

It doesn’t add up. That’s why, ahead of Tax Day this year, fast-food workers like me went on strike in 300 cities across the country. And we were joined by tens of thousands of home care, child care, higher education, airport, and other underpaid workers who all recognize that McDonald’s way of doing business is hurting us all.

As the second largest employer in the world, it sets the standard for workers across the service economy.

And it is a standard that is impossible to live on. Last month, I was forced to take on a second job working overnight at a Nike factory. Now I work from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. five days a week at McDonald’s, and then from 10:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. five days a week at Nike. On the days where I’m scheduled at both jobs, I barely have time to make it across town from Nike to McDonald’s in the morning.

I have no choice. My McDonald’s paycheck comes out to $480 every two weeks. My rent is $550 a month — which my landlord lets me split into two payments. I spend $70 a month on day care for my kids during the day, plus an extra $75 a month for babysitters during my night shifts. Add onto that the cost of gas, water, and electricity. Even with the second job, I can’t make it work.
Photo: Courtesy of Larika Harris.
Larika Harris says she gets paid $7.65 at McDonald’s—not nearly enough to support her two young kids. She supplements that with federally-subsidized child care, Medicaid and food stamps.
It’s only with the help of taxpayers that I get by. I get by with $389 a month in food stamps and $140 a month for day care. I rely on Medicaid both for me and my children. On top of that, once a month when my food stamps run out, I go to church to get a grocery bag, and I donate blood at the blood bank for extra cash.

That isn’t right when I’m working so hard. I’d much rather stand on my own two feet, but when companies like McDonald’s pay wages so low, that’s impossible.

And I’m not alone. Low wages in the fast-food industry cost taxpayers $7 billion a year in public assistance. Across the economy, working families like mine account for more than three-quarters of public assistance recipients, at a cost of more than $150 billion a year to taxpayers.

To make matters worse, companies like McDonald’s don’t pay their fair share of taxes. McDonald’s is being investigated around the world for tax avoidance — from Europe to Brazil. There are undocumented mothers in my community who work hard and pay their fair share of taxes, so why can’t a billion-dollar company like McDonald’s do the same?

The good news is that workers like me have seen what happens when we join together and speak out. Earlier this month, 10 million minimum-wage workers in California, New York, and Pennsylvania won raises to $15 an hour.

That’s food on the table for families. That’s gas money. And that’s the difference between working hard and being able to support your family, and working hard and having to rely on taxpayers to do so. By continuing our Fight for $15, my coworkers and I trust that one Tax Day in the near future, our wages will be high enough that we can feed our kids on our own.


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