Fast Food, Low Pay–and Sometimes a High Cost

That figure made headlines last month after researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, reported that front-line workers at fast-food restaurants, and their families, receive at least $7 billion a year in public benefits to supplement their wages—typically, under $9 an hour. The authors described the amount as “the public cost of low-wage jobs in the fast-food industry.”

Other researchers dispute that interpretation. They say the cost to the public would be higher without those jobs. And if fast-food restaurants raised their wages, that wouldn’t guarantee a corresponding decline in benefits: Some restaurants might automate functions and cut jobs, and some benefits remain available to workers making higher salaries.

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