Study finds California fast-food workers earn 'far below living wage'

A McDonald's drive thru worker hands an order to a customer February 9, 2009 in San Francisco, California.
A McDonald's drive thru worker hands an order to a customer February 9, 2009 in San Francisco, California. Photo credit Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – California's fast-food workers are making "far below a living wage" and much less than their counterparts in other service industries, according to a new study from Harvard and UCSF.

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The study — conducted Harvard professor Daniel Schneider and UCSF professor Kristen Harknett through The Shift Project — revealed that fast-food workers in California are paid nearly $3 less an hour than other service-sector jobs. The state's $15 per hour minimum wage benefits most service employees, but seems to skip over the fast-food industry, creating a substantial wage gap.

Between spring 2021 and spring 2022, The Shift Project surveyed 2,034 California service-sector workers.

According to the report, general service-sector employees make an average of $37,000 a year, while fast-food workers make $31,000. Earning 85 cents on the dollar compared with their counterparts, fast-food workers would have to work an additional six hours each week to reach an equal salary.

Throughout the state, the overall living wage is estimated at $21.82 an hour, translating to $45,386 per year. "California Fast Food workers are making only twothirds of what a single adult with no children needs to meet their basic needs," the study revealed.

The Shift Project identified three main causes of the salary discrepancy: low wages, insufficient hours and schedule instability.

Moving forward, Schneider and Harknett recommended that the state introduce legislation that sets labor standards and builds worker power to provide a pathway to stability for these employees and their families.

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