Forget the stereotype of teenage burger flippers

Turns out that 40% of fast-food employees are older than 25, while 25% have children.

By Aimee Picchi Aug 7, 2013 1:32PM

Marino Ahuatl works the drive through station at a McDonalds in Wheaton, Ill. (© Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)If you're asked to picture a fast-food worker, chances are you'll think of a teenager flipping burgers, standing at the grill or handling orders as a way to make some extra spending money. 

But the reality of today's fast-food workers is a far cry from that outdated image, according to a study from the liberal-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research, which looked through the most recent census data to get a picture of today's restaurant workforce.

While the workers do tend to be young, the biggest group is old enough to vote, rent a car and legally buy a drink. Forty percent of fast-food workers are 25 or older, with an additional 30% between 20 and 24, the group found. Just 30% are actually teenagers. 

It's not surprising, then, 25% of workers are raising at least one child. And among fast-food workers over 20, more than a third are raising children. 

Even more startling, more than 70% of all fast-food workers hold a high school degree, while about a third have some college education. 

The findings undermine the argument that fast-food workers deserve rock-bottom wages because, after all, they're just teenagers earning a little spending money while living at home.

No wonder fast-food workers from McDonald's (MCD) and other chains are protesting in support of $15 hourly wages, more than double the current federal baseline minimum of $7.25 per hour (if they lived in Australia, $15 an hour is about what they'd be starting at).

It's not easy to make a living on minimum wage, something that McDonald's acknowledged when it offered financial advice to its workers. The company's main point? Get two jobs to make ends meet. 

Today's minimum wage buys less than in previous eras, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The minimum wage in 1968, for example, would equate to an annual salary in today's dollars of $17,080 per year. But at today's federally mandated baseline pay, workers pull in just $15,080 annually. 

While fast-food workers' pay has stagnated, profits at McDonald's aren't exactly hurting. Second-quarter net income rose by 4% to almost $1.4 billion. 

Fast-food workers have good reason for not exactly lovin' it. 

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

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Aug 7, 2013 1:52PM
The reason the average age of fast food workers has risen is that many people who used to hold decent paying jobs that required some skill have now been laid off as factories and other businesses have moved production overseas. This causes those people to find lower skill lower wage work until they hopefully find a better job. This has caused younger people to have higher unemployment as these jobs used to be held by younger part time workers looking for experience and are now held by older more experienced workers.
Aug 7, 2013 2:23PM

It is part of Obama's 5 year long recovery summer.  People can't get jobs so they take whatever they can get. 


Meanwhile, Skippy can't get a job while in high school becasause all the fast food jobs are held by adults.  He won't have any money for college, and will end up getting a job at McDonalds, if one ever opens up.  Good thing he will stay on Mom and Dad's health insurance;-)

Aug 7, 2013 2:22PM

how many more of these left wing articles about minimum wage are going to pop up?


i dont know how much aimee picchi makes, i would guess 20/hr.  But if mcd's employees get paid 15/hr, i better not see aimee crying when her pay doesnt go up.

Aug 8, 2013 1:42PM
What no one seems to (or cares to) note is that whenever minimum wage takes a jump, prices follow, and eventually, the minimum wage earners are right back where they started.  The ones who really suffer are the middle class earners who make just enough more than minimum so that they will not benefit from the increase.  They are left to face the resulting rise in the cost of living with no rise in income.
Aug 7, 2013 2:32PM

Increases in wages make prices go up and therefore, your buying power will stay the same. 


Your value as an employee is based upon the value you add to a product.  If the baseline goes up, then all wages and costs will go up eventually by the same ratio.  That is how a free market works.

Aug 9, 2013 1:37PM
The thing about this is that if MCD does agree to the $15/hr wage the worker may not see that many former employer did the same thing to me. I was demoted from being office staff making full-time wages to part-time but I was making $0.83 more per hour...I think in the long run that all of these companies that are outsourcing are really hurting themselves...think about it...pretty soon we aren't going to be able to afford the products they are offering if we all keep getting laid off due to outsourcing...smh.
Aug 7, 2013 3:25PM

This has been going on from at least the last 20 years and each year the number of teenagers able to find work flipping burgers or any fast food job is dwindling away.  Every time they do this immigration reform they do it at the peril of our future teens being able to find opportunities to perform good job training. 


It is a shame that the American government will not tell Mexico and other South American countries to get their act together, educate their population and create opportunities in their countries.  We really don't need more uneducated adults.  I just think it is a shame they do not tell these countries to shape up or loose trade status with America.

How about this.  You work hard and get promoted to shift manager or maybe even (Gasp!) assistant manager and guess wont matter to you what the minimum wage is, because now you're in the wonderful world of hard working middle classers. 
Oct 19, 2013 9:13PM

Yes, "someone" has a valid point. I used to be a factory worker for years; I had specific skills relevant to the product lines. I have also used specialized software geared towards purchasing and inventory control.  I have been educated in a university.


Here's the kicker; the education I have is outdated. I went to school in the days of DOS, and a mouse was something with grey or brown fur.


So now I'm flippin' burgers while I study on-line to update my software application knowledge. BTW, I'm a middle-age lady just trying to pay the rent and I work hard for my minimum wage.

I'm on the grill for 4 to 5 hours a day, without a break. The law says that they don't have to give me one in a shift that's less than 6 hours.


So next time, you want to make fun of us fast-food workers, just remember: I could be your mother or Grandma just trying to make a living. Have a nice day.



Aug 20, 2013 7:12PM
Aug 8, 2013 9:47AM
I have a 19 year old son and 2012 high school graduate who would love to be working, even in fast food as he has some months before he enters the Navy; but he can't, because most jobs like these have been taken by know; those folks who criminally entered and remain in this country supposedly only taking jobs that US citizens don't want (lie).
Aug 7, 2013 5:15PM
To me it doen't matter. Most haven't any manners and they still can't count change. The only ones who do are the people who work at Sonic.
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