Marie Antoinette, meet Ronald McDonald.
A lot of people are angry about McDonald's new financial advice website for employees, an ill-conceived project which drips with "let them eat cake" insouciance. "Every dollar makes a difference," McDonald's lectures its struggling and often impoverished workers.
But it's time to ditch the resentment and offer McDonald's a word of thanks. It has just performed an invaluable service for campaigns like Raise the Minimum Wage, petitions like this one, and July 24's National Day of Action by serving up a timely and exhaustively researched brief on their behalf. This new website provides invaluable data for a living-wage "McManifesto."
Get this: The new employee website, co-created with Visa, helpfully suggests that people who work for this Fortune 500 corporation begin the financial planning process by taking a second job.
As a number of ticked-off writers have observed, McDonald's also pretty much advises its employees not to clothe themselves, heat their homes, seek educational advancement, or pay more than $600 in rent and $20 in health insurance premiums per month. (As Daniel Gross notes, that would pay for about two days of coverage.)
And, as if that's not enough, there isn't even any money for food in the McDonald's sample budget. Apparently for McDonald's employees the phrase "Happy Meal" means you're happy whenever you're lucky enough to scrounge a meal.
People were seething at the website's arch touches, which include interactive games like "Financial Football" and "Road Trip to Savings," and were thunderstruck by the lordly obliviousness behind pronouncements like "Knowing where your money goes and how to budget it is the key to your financial freedom."
(Not when there's not enough of it, Sir Ronald.)
Peter S. Goodman notes that McDonald's receives a fortune in "corporate welfare." In fact, government policies help most of the country's underpaying mega-corporations keep expanding through a series of tax breaks and other concessions.
Economically, we're super-sizing them.
Heart of the matter.
Many McDonald's workers need public assistance to survive, which often includes Medicaid. That's right: The public is even subsidizing McDonald's low wages and lousy benefits when it comes to health care.
Subsidize McDonald's? For health care? With that food it should be hit with a surcharge.
Fun fact: McDonald's says it serves nine million pounds of French fries globally every day. Since slightly more than half its franchises are in the US, that means Americans presumably consume between four and five million pounds of this lard-laden, massively space-time curving starchy mass every 24 hours.
Each McDonald's French fry is a tiny, fat-drenched drone missile aimed directly at the American cardiovascular system. One can only imagine how much of our nation's runaway health care costs are traceable to this one corporation alone.
And we're subsidizing its health care, rather than the other way around.
In 2012 McDonald's had gross profit of more than $10 billion on annual revenues of $27 billion. That's up more than 12 percent from 2010. The lard business is good.
Visa, which for some reason has been spared most of this week's online fury, deserves its own share of negative attention. As the financial half of this website team, Visa presumably provided the handiwork which reminds struggling fast-food employees that "every day and every dollar make a difference."
Visa, like McDonald's, is a coddled corporation. A government less corrupted by Big Money would have broken up this monopolistic enterprise long ago, especially given its tendency to abuse its marketplace dominance.
Visa was originally created by one fraud-ridden and bailed out megabank, Bank of America, and continues to enrich another. And, as CNN Money reported, its 2008 IPO "created a nice windfall for its owners, including its largest shareholder JPMorgan ... about $1.3 billion on its 29 million shares."
JPM made the headlines with yet another major fraud just this morning, adding piquancy to the knowledge that it bleeds us a little every time we swipe a credit card or debit card. And yet these two corporate anti-heroes have performed a great service by making the case so beautifully:
Americans can't live on today's minimum wage.
With a side of cynicism.
If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity it would now be $16.54 per hour, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. It would be $10.74 if it had merely kept pace with inflation - although McDonald's and VISA have now demonstrated that this isn't enough to live on either. (The minimum wage is currently $7.25.)
That adds an extra dose of cynicism to the website's observation that "You can have almost anything you want as long as you plan ahead and save for it."
That lie carries a special sting for the millions who have been locked out of the American Dream. Thanks to the deliberate policy decisions of the last four decades - breaks and giveaways for corporations, coupled with lost income for the majority - social mobility and income fairness have plunged in this country.
No matter how much you try to save on a minimum wage, a better life will remain beyond your means - until something changes.
Are there no roommates? Are there no malt shops?
A McDonald's-like tone-deafness let Washington Post blogger Timothy B. Lee in for a heavy dose of online criticism too, when he defended the McDonald's/Visa budget. Here's an excerpt:
"Gawker's Neil Casey calls $600 per month for rent a 'laughably small' figure, but Casey should spend more time outside the Northeast Corridor. When I lived in St. Louis, my roommate and I each paid $425 per month ..."
Roommate? That clichéd thinking reflects one of the key misconceptions about minimum-wage workers: that they're teenagers or twenty-one year olds just starting out in life. It's closely related to the myth that most fast-food workers are fresh-faced kids serving root beer floats at the local malt shop.
In fact, less than 16 percent of minimum-wage workers are teenagers. Many are parents, which makes the "roommate" suggestion especially silly. More than seven million children live in a minimum-wage home. And many minimum-wage workers live in poverty. (See Real Faces of the Minimum Wage for more.)
You deserve a break today.
America is crying out to McDonald's as if with one voice: "Stuff that financial planning website in your Egg McMuffin."
The pain and anger is palpable. But it's not enough. What do we do?
For one thing, we can sign a petition supporting a bill which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 - and then demand it be raised even further. We can back the minimum-wage campaigns being waged around the country, which build on an exciting grassroots movement of fast-food workers in cities like Detroit. (There's more information here.)
McDonald's should join the wage movement it so ably served this week, because economic misery is hurting its bottom line in the US and worldwide. And while its new and successful "dollar menu" shows that it's willing to profit from hard times, that's only a short-term fix in a declining economy.
Pay your workers what they deserve, McDonald's. But the rest of us won't wait for you. We're taking action, because we agree with you about one thing:
Every dollar makes a difference.