Fox Doesn't Understand Why Low-Wage Workers Need Government Assistance

Fox Business' Charles Payne questioned the need for fast food workers to rely on federal assistance, absurdly citing aggregate earnings of workers and ignoring the fact that many in the industry earn below subsistent wages.

On the October 25 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., guest host Charles Payne and Fox contributor Elizabeth MacDonald discussed a recently released audio recording from the advocacy group In the recording, a long-time McDonald's employee is directed by a “McResources” representative to seek out federal benefit programs to augment her inadequate take-home income. MacDonald cited a statement from McDonald's disavowing the call before Payne launched into a slander-filled tirade against a stereotyped generalization of low-wage, fast food employees:

PAYNE: There is a lot of unfortunate parts of the story. If you want to create a society where these jobs -- $8 jobs go for $15. Then what you're saying to people is like, okay, “don't improve your life. Don't finish high school. Don't go to college. Don't, you know what, have three or four kids out of wedlock. Don't put yourself in a predicament where this is your only option. In fact, keep doing what you're doing, smoke weed all day if you want. Doesn't matter. You'll get rewarded because in this society Mickey D's has got the money. They owe it to you.” And I think that's a work mentality.

Payne concluded his screed by referencing the aggregate wages of fast food employees nationwide to support his claim that they don't actually need taxpayer-subsidized assistance programs:

PAYNE: By the way, people should know. They say it's between $3 to $7 billion that fast food workers get in care from the government. In the same time though, these fast food workers make between $41 and $46 billion. So who is subsidizing who?

While Payne is quick to dismiss that workers need these programs, absurdly citing aggregate earnings of fast food workers, facts show that they are indeed essential.

According to a recently released study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign titled "Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast Food Industry," “annual earnings in the fast food industry are well below the income need for self-sufficiency,” and after accounting for limited work hours, the median annual earnings of a fast food worker stands at just $11,056 -- below the federal poverty threshold for an individual. Couple those low earnings with the fact that workers in the industry are twice as likely to be in households with total income below the poverty line, and it becomes clear that reliance on federal programs is necessary.

Indeed, fast food workers are overwhelmingly more reliant on public assistance programs than other segments of the workforce.

Source: Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast Food Industry, October 15, 2013

The study estimates the total cost of public assistance to the fast-food industry to be “nearly $7 billion per year.” The authors argue that the “hidden public cost” of four programs -- Health insurance (Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, coverage), the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and basic household income assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) -- is extensive enough to require ameliorative public policy decisions. From the report:

The public benefits discussed in this report provide a vital support system for millions of the working poor. The findings of this report suggest those programs could be more effective if supplemented by measures that improve workers' wages and benefits, either through public policy measures such as living and minimum wage laws, or through collective bargaining.

Fox News has a long and well-documented history of promoting myths aimed at undermining both minimum wage workers and the federal minimum wage itself. The network persistently rejects any discussion of the economic benefit of increasing the minimum wage, falsely claiming that increasing the federal baseline would negatively affect the job market.

Numerous media outlets reported McDonald's suggestion that an employee seek Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Medicare, and Medicaid in lieu of adequate take-home pay or employer-provided health insurance. Only Fox expressed incredulity at the existence of a public assistance subsidy for fast food workers. Payne's rebuttal of the concerns of fast-food workers fits a trend for the network, which has even hosted fast-food lobbyists to further its anti-minimum wage agenda.