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Saturday, October 22, 2016

A few words about the McBudget.

Perhaps you’ve heard of it. As fast-food workers around the country protest for higher wages, we learn that McDonald’s offers advice to help them live on the wages they make that, while not technically bupkes, do amount to a paycheck you can pretty much have the driver cash for you on the bus ride home. In December, for example, Bloomberg profiled a Chicago man who, after 20 years with the burger giant, earns $8.25 an hour — and doesn’t get 40 hours a week. This, as McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson pulled down, according to the Wall Street Journal, a compensation package worth $13.8 million last year.

Anyway, Mickey D’s isn’t blind to the difficulties of french fry makers and drive-through order takers getting by on not-quite-bupkes. It partnered with Visa on a website that includes a sample budget showing how you can live reasonably well on next to nothing.

The impossibility of doing so has been attested to by everyone from writer Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Nickel and Dimed to noted obstetrician Cliff Huxtable, in that episode of The Cosby Show where he uses Monopoly money to teach young Theo the value of a good income. It has also been attested to by the people trying to do it. But all that notwithstanding, the McBudget insists it can be done.

It envisions monthly take-home pay of $2,060 from working two (!) jobs. Out of that, you pay $600 for rent, $150 for a car note, $100 for insurance (home and auto), $100 for cable and phone, $90 for the electric bill, $20 for health insurance, etc. You save $100 a month and have $750 to play with — if, by “play,” you mean pay for clothing, child care and water. Also, gasoline, maintenance and repair for the 1997 junkmobile you’re able to buy for $150 a month. Oh, and food. Can’t forget food.

As you might expect, the McBudget is mildly controversial. Washington Post blogger Timothy B. Lee called the figures “realistic” and praised McDonald’s for “practical” advice. This seems to be a minority opinion. ThinkProgress, the left-leaning website, called the budget “laughably inaccurate.” Stephen Colbert skewered the company, saying a $20 health insurance premium will buy you “a tourniquet, a bottle of Night Train and a bite stick.” Writing for the Wall Street Journal, columnist Al Lewis suggested that McDonald’s $13.8 million man show us how it’s done by volunteering to live on the McBudget.

  • MasterWes

    If a McBudgeter has to buy food, can he/she get the employee discount?

    • Bill Mohon

      Sure … you can have a complimentary order of “McGaggets” each day

  • sigrid28

    Leonard Pitts, Jr., about this piece: I’m lovin’ it. Especially, “Heck, if you handed the federal budget over to a couple welfare mothers, we’d be in surplus by December.” One big difference between a federal budget gutted by Republican skin-flints and a federal budget wrangled into compliance by a couple welfare mothers is the moms serve up love with each piece of the pie. I used to admire these mothers when I taught their children in Chicago public schools. Now that I’m deemed over-qualified to teach in schools and have joined their ranks, I admire them even more.

  • FredAppell

    It’s tragic that the people at the top are so out of touch. $600 a month rents? $100 a month car payments? Where are they coming up with these unrealistic numbers? I can certainly understand their reasoning if there were plenty of good jobs to step up, to but there aren’t any. This is a prime reason why nobody can get ahead, the money is paltry but the expenses just to survive are astronomical and those at the top simply shrug and say deal with it.

    • Dominick Vila

      Add to that the bargains the insurance companies are planning to offer as soon as ACA is deployed and you really have to wonder how most Americans survive. The much touted insurance premium breaks coming up reduce the amount an individual pays from about $1,300 a month down to around $600. A significant reduction to be sure, but not something a fast food employee or someone working in a retail store can afford to pay. Incredibly, most Americans have a negative opinion of organized labor, apparently because unions fight for higher wages, a decent benefit package, solid safety standards, and other benefits designed to help workers. How did the elite accomplish that? By brainwashing a naïve populace, willing to accept peanuts is that helps them survive. That acceptance is influenced by lack of confidence in ourselves, by the uncertainties that affect so many of us, by the conviction that we are lucky to have a job, and by ideological leanings.

      • sigrid28

        I was interested by your assessment that brainwashing or lack of confidence may explain, in part, why the 98% seems to acquiesce to the outrageous demands the 2% place upon them, really at their own expense: think of the workers who keep McDonalds going on a day-to-day basis, for example. I heard an interview with Iyanla Vanzant this weekend. She is a television personality now hosting a program on Oprah Winfrey’s network. She said that when she was living on the edge economically and spiritually, she had to retreat within herself and concentrate only on accomplishing the specific goals she set for herself each day. No outreach, no political organizing, no ambition much beyond the present–barely enough time to vote and go the church. Iyanla had to do this just to bring out her own capacity for endurance and progress. As a newly minted member of the welfare class, I understand this now. It is not a lack of confidence, but a confidence pared down to fit difficult, almost impossible circumstances. It is not brainwashing, but putting on blinders, to get rid of envy and anger and other emotions that might get in the way of make progress–your own progress and that of your children–step by step. From this point of view, the 2% take advantage of how hard daily life is for the 98%, often burdening them even further, and keep funding legislators who support the status quo. No fix may be possible until we get big money out of politics are restore fairness to the election process. Both seem impossible now, but are nothing when compared to the Herculean task of trying to cure the moneyed classes of insatiable greed.

        • FredAppell

          That’s a great story and it points out the the bigger picture so poignantly. I disagree with what you said to Dominick to a point.
          The issue’s you outlined are true but Dominick was also correct when he spoke about brainwashing and lack of confidence. There are many jobs that I never applied for because of a lack of confidence, I convinced myself that I had no right to apply because I didn’t have the skill set. Some of that comes from brainwashing, and yes, some comes from the knowledge that certain job requirements must already be known, but not always…

          We have another portion of Americans who don’t believe in helping others on a national level and that’s the brainwashing part. They convince themselves that anyone who isn’t self reliant isn’t pulling their fair weight. I used to believe that too many years ago.

          • sigrid28

            Such a beautiful, insightful post.

          • FredAppell

            This is one of the subjects that are closest to my heart. I really don’t trust the wealthy. The Declaration Of Independents and the Constitution were written by an elite class of men who were deeply flawed. It’s the very same thing now. I know that if I were to write a document with extraordinary implications, I wouldn’t leave those documents so ambiguous. Our country has been in conflict ever since as a consequence of that.

          • quasardrake

            You made quite a Freudian slip there. It is NOT the “Declaration of Independents” (as in ‘Independent men are declaring their freedom’). It is the “Declaration of Independence” as in ‘freeing ourselves from dependence on the British crown”.
            It is a subtle but telling difference in wording entirely appropriate to the subject of discussion here.

          • FredAppell

            I completely agree but I wasn’t trying to make that distinction. Actually, your reply to me bolsters my comment even more.
            Simply put, the United States of America that we are familiar with was designed by people of great means looking out for their own best interest, not that of the common person.

      • FredAppell

        True so true! I believe the reason some folks turned against organized labor is because companies transfer that cost onto the consumer which creates animosity. We ought to be questioning why these costs are transferred onto the rest of us instead of taking it out on people just trying to make a good living. I think some of it also boils down to ideology. If a person believes that labor unions are the first step towards Socialism and Communism than they will naturally treat those unions as a threat to the American way of life. Personally, I don’t drink that b/s but I can also see how someone might draw that conclusion based on what they’re told. It’s that whole slippery slope argument that makes what we believe in a hard sell for some to digest.

        • Dominick Vila

          For starters they should give up all the gains influenced by organized labor determination to improve the standard of living of the working class. From overtime pay, to paid vacations, paid sick leave, bereavement pay, healthcare insurance coverage, participation in 401k or thrift plans, etc.

          • FredAppell

            I know, but that isn’t going to happen. There is way too many people involved in the scheme. We need to figure out what we are going to do about it or else the middle class risks becoming a relic from the dust bin of history.

      • NCSteve

        Your statement about the ACA is just plain false. If you live in a state run by Democrats and make this much, you won’t be paying any premiums because you’ll be covered under the Medicaid expansion. If you live in a state run by Republicans, you’ll be going without insurance but you’ll be exempt from the mandate.

        • Dominick Vila

          The way things are shaping up and the GOP manages to defund ACA, there will be no money to pay for the subsidies that would make premiums affordable regardless of which state you live in.

      • wjca

        There is a great deal that unions *could* do for Americans in low wage jobs. But Americans have, as you say, a rather negative opinion of organized labor. Why? Because of too many decades where unions were focused on featherbedding and unrealistic pay and benefits for their members. (Not to mention cushy positions for their nominal leaders.) No matter what that did to the cost of goods that everybody else bought. No matter that the result was jobs (previously union and non-union alike) being moved out of state or off-shore.

        Today, of course, the only significant unions in most places are those of public employees. Which not only have all the faults of private sector unions, but leave all of us as taxpayers to foot the bill. How would anybody get a warm feeling about people with that kind of attitude.

        You may say that unions aren’t really like that, or at least don’t have to be like that. And it’s true that they don’t have to be. Unfortunately, they have been for so long that they have a long hard slog to sell their benefits to the 90% of workers who aren’t already members. It can be done. But it won’t be easy, and every time we all read about another union insisting that their members benefits cannot be touched, no matter what the impact is on (usually) the cities and states that they work for and we live in, the sell gets that much harder.

        • Dominick Vila

          There is no question that unions got carried away and that their record include practices that were counter productive, but my experience with them was fairly positive. In fact, it was easier for me to manage the part of my organization that sought organized labor representation than the two thirds comprised of professionals. The latter were more demanding, because of their skill level and the criticality of the work they performed, and the effects of attrition and potential impact in customer relations were much more critical than the inconvenience of having to deal with a bargaining agreement.
          I will say this, the union members I dealt with would not have gotten the pay increases and would not have had access to a thrift plan had it not been for the union representatives that represented them at the bargaining table. As far as remuneration and benefits, theirs were not even close to what the exempt personnel earned.
          I never saw the stereotyped union boss smoking a cigar in a smoke filled dark room, and whatever the union members got, they deserved.

          • wjca

            I can see the benefits of only having to bargin with one entitity, rather than a horde of professionals. But the problem for unions is not so much that managers have a negative view of them as that their potential members do. And, as you say, they have earned that.

            I might also note, as one of those professionals, my one experience in a union job. The union at my company was on strike, so the exempt personnel got brought in to fill critical jobs while bargaining continued. There were normally over 3 dozen union members in the building where I ended up; the company put in 15 of us. After a week to learn the ropes, we dropped down to less than a dozen. (Which also means that the company was getting the work done at a substantially lower cost than normal.)

            We were getting everything done, and not (in our view) working particularly hard. Physically more effort, of course, but not really all that much still. None of us could figure out how the regular staff managed to find enough to do to keep from utter boredom. One guess what kind of view of unions we all came away with.

          • sigrid28

            But could you have continued doing the shop jobs while doing your management jobs AT THE SAME TIME? In high schools, they used to let the students be teachers, just for a day–one student was even able to try out the principal’s job. I use the comparison to high school, because there the distinction between students and faculty has an element of symbiosis.

            Looking at it another way, isn’t it the fault of management if the shop jobs were being done inefficiently? What a terrific management team you all were, finishing out the strike and concluding that you could do their jobs better they did–before you didn’t need them any more.

          • wjca

            We were computer techs, not managers. And no, simply because there are limited hours in the day we couldn’t have done both jobs at the same time.

            One of the problem that I see is that it ISN’T that management has inefficiently organized the work. It’s that the union contract specifies work practices, which cannot be changed by management without renegotiating the contract. And one thing the union will not accept is changing the work practices to make the jobs more efficient — because that means fewer people are needed to get the job done, and so less members for them. So upping the union members game is not really an option.

            In many cases, the disadvantage that a unionized company has isn’t that they pay their workers more. It’s that they have no flexibility to do things more efficiently. It is certainly true that a union doesn’t have to take that position — and no doubt someone can come up with an example somewhere in the world of unions which don’t. But that has been characteristic of American unions for decades.

          • 4sanity4all

            If you back farther in history, the Unions came about because the bosses were literally working people to death, in unsafe conditions for low wages. I agree that some, not all, unions pushed it too far in the other direction. And I do not agree that eliminating unions is reasonable, because look at the plight of low wage workers in this country now. The abuses are rampant, and working people are so underpaid that they qualify for food stamps. I am certain that the workers would prefer the dignity of being paid a living wage so they could get off of public assistance.

          • wjca

            Eliminating unions is generally neither reasonable nor desirable. Which doesn’t mean that they will florish until and unless they clean up their act.

            But part of “cleaning up their act” is probably going to involve accepting the fact that public employee unions are not a viable part of having a healthy union movement for the private sector. That is, you can have one or the other, but probably not both.

  • Dominick Vila

    The sad part is that the contrast between what CEOs like Don Thompson and tens of thousands of workers throughout the USA make is not limited to McDonalds. That is actually the norm. It highlights the economic and compensation inequalities that prevail in an out of control capitalist system and explain the reason for the constant attacks against organized labor.
    The goal, for most CEOs, board members and upper management (there are a few exceptions), is not to pay their employees livable wages, but to increase sales, profits, and exceed shareholder expectations by reducing operating costs and focusing on effective sales strategies. Fairness, focus on quality, and esoteric concepts such as process improvement, are almost an afterthought for those whose top priority is the Almighty dollar.
    I support private industry, in fact, I believe a prosperous private industry is the key to prosperity for all, but I can’t stand the greed that people like Thompson and so many other CEOs demonstrate to anyone paying attention to what is happening in the USA.
    The erosion of assembly line jobs that once allowed millions of Americans to live comfortably, the decision of so many American investors to invest overseas to maximize profits, outsourcings, ineffective regulations, the irrelevancy of organized labor, an absence of compassion, and the exploitation of millions of American workers working in sectors such as hospitality, retail, the garment industry and others contribute to the enrichment of a few, the huge earnings posted by most American corporations, the disappearance of the middle class, and the misery of many.

  • highpckts

    They aren’t the only ones who are cheap! Many companies are only offering part time to get our of health insurance and then only pay minimum wage on top of that! Self righteous egocentrics that think the world revolves around them!!


    It’s amazing how wealthy people, who have never been poor, always know what’s best for poor people and demand the poor step up and take absolute responsibility for their lives while paying them as little as possible.

  • JDavidS

    I saw the McBudget…It would appear to have been authored by Lyin’ Ryan, an imbecile who’d have to take off his shoes to accurately count past ten.
    It’s pretty easy to preach “tough love” when you don’t have to live it.

  • sleeprn01

    Please, someone show me where to get health insurance for $20.00 per month. I’m currently paying $1100.00 per month and it is not a premium plan. I’m in that age range where I’m too old to get reasonably priced health care and too young to get Medi-Care.

    • FredAppell

      The conservative health care plan ” here’s a gun and a bullet, enjoy eternity “.

    • wjca

      I have found a catastrophic care plan ($20K annual deductable and large co-pays after that) which is “only” a couple hundred a month. But $20? Fantasyland.

  • charleo1

    My 2 cents. Sub par wages cause unemployment. Unemployment drives down
    wages, and eliminates benefits like healthcare. That leaves the government paying
    the tab. Cutting taxes for corporations, and upper incomes, who sit on the windfall,
    waiting for a good investment in the stagnant economy, they collectively created.
    Then, causes the government that is now paying the ever greater part of the tab,
    And no longer receiving the taxes, and is not benefiting from a better economy, and refuses to raise taxes, to borrow even more money. My 2 cents.

    • FredAppell

      Some businesses will use any excuse they can to justify raising their product costs. Case in point, our local Dunkin Donuts just recently raised the price of
      every cup of coffee they sell by .10 cents. I don’t mind paying that little extra but none of their employees got a raise, their justification was that the price of fuel has gone up. Mind you, these people own 8 stores and the prices all differ even
      though 4 of their stores are in the same town. The only power we have is to either buy or not to buy and I would rather buy to preserve jobs. These same business owners are more than likely receiving tax breaks and the bulk of their employees aren’t even American. That’s one small example in one small town in anywhere USA. How do we combat a system that rewards such activities? Charleo, I can’t believe we’re that powerless but the laws and the lawmakers favor the folks that we’re up against.