What It’s Really Like To Support Yourself On McDonald’s Pay

Photo courtesy Adriana Alvarez and Fight for 15.
What do McDonald’s workers like me have in common with the nannies and day care staff who care for our kids? In most cases, neither of us are paid enough to support our families, and that means we have to rely on public assistance just to survive. That’s why I am taking part in nationwide strikes, calling for $15 hourly wages and union rights, and why I am so glad to see that child care workers in many cities are joining the Fight for $15 that fast food workers started. I’m a single mom with a three-year-old son named Manny. To support him, I work full-time as a cashier at a McDonald’s in Chicago. I’ve worked at McDonald’s for five years, but still make only $10.50 an hour. The only way my son and I can make it is with food stamps, Medicaid, and a child care subsidy. Most of my coworkers are in the same boat, no matter how long they've held their jobs.
With child care, transportation to work, food, rent, and our other basic expenses, there’s no money left over for living. Every time I think about taking Manny somewhere fun, like to a movie, I have to think about whether we can really afford the gas. For me to go to work, I need Manny to be in child care that I can afford, which is not very easy to find. With my subsidy, it used to cost $46 a month, but Governor Bruce Rauner put new policies in place, and it now costs me $400. The people who work at the day care center do a good job. They teach in both English and Spanish, and Manny has made friends there. But, I know that many employees in that industry are in the same situation that we’re in at McDonald’s, receiving low pay and needing food stamps and Medicaid to get by. Poverty-level wages make it hard for too many families to afford the child care they need — including families of many child care providers. People ask me how it would make a difference if I were paid $15 an hour. The first thing is that Manny and I could move to a decent place to live and be in a neighborhood with good schools. We live in a basement apartment, because it's all I can afford. When it rains, water seeps into the apartment. This wetness brings mold, and I can’t get rid of the smell. We can’t even leave anything on the floor, which is tough with a three-year-old. Toys or anything else on the floor may get ruined when the water comes in. Besides a raise, fast food and child care workers also want to be able to form a union without interference from management. With a union, we could negotiate sick days, which I don’t have now. Kids get sick all the time, that’s just part of life. When Manny gets sick and can’t go to day care, I have to take off work. That means a whole day of wages lost, which I really cannot afford. McDonald’s recently made an announcement that gave the impression that it would be giving its workers big raises. What it's offering isn't nearly enough, and the announcement was likely motivated by us workers having so much support from within the community. Only one out of 10 McDonald’s workers are eligible for the well publicized new raises. People who work at independently operated franchises are left out; the company won't step in and demand more for its staff at those stores. Besides, the raises will take that small group of people from an average of $9 an hour to an average of $10 an hour, and it won't happen until 20 months from now. That’s hardly going to lift any working family out of poverty. A few people in America are richer than ever before, while a lot of us are just barely getting by. It doesn’t seem right that people who work with children or who serve food aren’t paid enough to support their own kids or put food on their own tables.  We work hard every day. In return, we want our families to be able to look forward to a better future. We want to see that change, and soon.
Adriana Alvarez is a single mother, a cashier at a McDonald’s in Chicago, and a national leader in the Fight for 15 movement.

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