Where fast-food workers toil longest for a Big Mac

While low-paid employees in Sierra Leone would have to labor for 136 hours, US workers are hardly in first place.

By Aimee Picchi Aug 20, 2013 2:32PM

McDonald's Big Mac burger (© Worldwide Features/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)McDonald's (MCD) Big Mac serves as a cultural Rorschach test, viewed as either a beloved food icon or a symbol of society's ills, depending on a person's outlook. But the famous burger also has a role in the business world as an economic indicator. 

Strategists at the trading firm ConvergEx have created a minimum wage Big Mac index, which looks at how long low-earning workers in various countries would need to toil to buy one of Mickey D's famous burgers. 

For American workers, the report offers a tantalizing slice of good news and a whopping dose of depressing reality. 

First the good news. The U.S. is far from the worst place to work when it comes to Big Mac affordability. Several countries require their lowest-paid workers to toil far longer to afford a burger, and Sierra Leone is the worst. 

Workers in the African country, which suffered a devastating decade-long war in the 1990s, must work 136 hours to afford a Big Mac, given the country's 3-cent minimum wage. Nevertheless, the issue is moot for most Sierra Leone residents because there's no McDonald's restaurant within its borders.

American minimum-wage workers place in the middle of the pack, requiring about 34 minutes of labor to afford a Big Mac

"If we compare apples to apples how many hours it takes to earn a Big Mac at minimum wage, the U.S. again comes right in the middle at number 8," ConvergEx researchers write. 

So what's the bad news? First, workers in many of the world's developed countries outpace American workers, including those in Australia, New Zealand, France and Canada. 

Workers in Australia were the best off, needing just 18 minutes to buy a burger. McDonald's wages in Australia are about $15 per hour, or double the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25. 

But looking simply at the baseline pay might be missing the beef, the strategists note. That's because the battle over the minimum wage -- with conservatives arguing against a proposed increase -- ignores the impact of benefits. Only 9% of U.S. wages are paid out through benefits, lower than the 16.2% average for 30 countries surveyed by Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report notes. 

"For comparison's sake, the amount of benefits you are paid for working in the U.S. are closest to those you might get if you were working in Greece or New Zealand," the strategists write. "Even Singapore has higher benefit pay than U.S. workers."

Given that minimum wage workers are less likely to receive benefits than higher-paid employees, that means $7.25 an hour "certainly isn't enough to pay for . . . medical expenses or to save for retirement."

Even a side of fries can't make that analysis any more palatable to America's low earners.

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 

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Aug 20, 2013 4:00PM
Minimum wage jobs are not meant to be permanent jobs.  They are jobs that you work while you get other education.  I went to night school for eleven years.  Hard not to be successful if you work two jobs and go to night school for eleven years.

What kind of moron could possibly expect to support a family working@ mickey D's

Its fairly evident that most of these people  were slackers and expect to go to the front of the line with the people who applied themselves right from the start and worked hard. Well it don't work that way





Aug 20, 2013 4:05PM
That Big Mac photo doesn't look like the ads on TV at all.........................
Aug 29, 2013 1:38AM
about 1/3 of the time i go to a fast food place they get something wrong on my order so most of them are getting paid what they're worth.
Aug 20, 2013 3:19PM

Great story Aimee, now tell me where the US ranks as far as average wage?

            At $42,000 per year, that would put us at number 1.


I think Aimee would rather us be like Australia and replace all low wage worker with Kiosks.

Aug 20, 2013 2:55PM
Kind of depends on where you live in the USA.  In the state of Washington, the minimum wage is $9.19, so it takes a worker less than 20 minutes to earn enough for a Big Mac here.  The big surprise to me is that Sierra Leone has no MacDonalds restaurants!  No wonder tourism struggles there.  (Not to be too glib, I am sure that their lengthy civil war and poverty has more to do with it)
Aug 20, 2013 2:51PM
Is the price of the Big Mac the price in the market it is bought, or is it the same price across the markets?
Aug 29, 2013 5:24AM

$15 an hour for a fast food worker. You have got to be kidding me.  What the hell makes these people think they deserve so much more then any other employee in any other job? They want to make more money? Then they need to get up off their lazy asses and get an education or look for a better paying job. You think McDonalds or Burger King are the only places in the world to work. Well they are not.  I hope they all lose their jobs when they walk out.


fast food jobs are first time jobs or just filler jobs or to make some extra money. Anyone who thinks spending 15 years flipping burgers is a career move deserves to get $8 an hour.  I am sure there have been opportunities to make more money at other jobs.  I seen one article talk about a 20 year old girl who says she cant make it on 7 something an hour while living with her unemployed boyfriend and 1 year old daughter. Well make the damn boyfriend get off his lazy **** and be a man and find a job to help support his family.  Must be real bum if he cant work at McDonalds like his girlfriend. How much talent or education do you need to ask if you want fries with that or if you want to super size that.


All this represents is the lazy percent of americans who want something for nothing. Oh blah blah blah they work on their feet. How many people in other jobs are on their feet all day and don't make anymore. Just because your a fast food worker you are better then them and deserve more? Get a life. We have all had to struggle doing jobs for little pay but we still managed to make it and to get out and find better paying jobs.  How many times have you gone into McDonalds or Burger King or Hardees and seen the employee's standing around leaning on the counter or goofing around not to mention getting your orders wrong. They are paid fairly for what they have to do.  Better give farm hands and babysitters and paper boys and girls 20 or 30 dollars an hour.


They want to cry about how much the corporations and franchise owners are making with their businesses. Well welcome to life. Show me one damn business that is out there just so their employees can make money.  If these fast food workers were running businesses they would be doing the same thing. Can they honestly say they would give up making as much money as they can just so they can give their employees whatever they want? I don't think so.


Every since I heard about his I have not been able to look at any fast food employee with respect. I see them and all I see is greedy lazy americans who cannot apply themselves or attempt to make better lives for themselves.

Aug 29, 2013 9:35AM
I would like to know from everyone out there:  Are the people at these fast food places being forced against their will to make min wage?  Is someone holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to work for low pay?  Are they placed in these fast food places by the court to work in a work camp or a chain gang?  So, who agreed with the pay when they got hired?  Lets get real, if they could do better with no education they would.  NO EDUCATION = LOW PAY..
Aug 20, 2013 2:48PM
How did I know this was an Amiee story before even looking? Get off the minimum increase bandwagon. The min should not be raised.

Aug 29, 2013 3:50AM

I don't go to fast food places much any more. They cost to much and I can go to a sit down place foe the same price or less and if they get something wrong I don't have to drive back to get them to fix it. I hate going into a fast food place as more times as not if they are not slammed they are standing around BS'ing and they make you wait until they are done with whatever story they are telling. Fast food is gone, as it isn't that fast nor that good. Burgers taste uhh, they don't taste like burgers anymore. I've have gotten rotten tomatoes, lettuce, and no  "special" sauce on my burgers. It seems that the fast food worker is there to collect a paycheck and doesn't care if the customer is happy to go there, if they get what they ordered, or even if the food they give the customer is eatable. I'm sure not everyone working in fast food is this way, nor is every fast food place this way, to me more are than not.

Aug 29, 2013 1:40PM

Here in Calif. most fast food workers can't speak English. To me, immigrants who can't speak English

are illegals, mostly from Mexico. How can these fast food business's get away with hiring iIlegals and

how can they protest for higher wages?

Aug 29, 2013 12:22PM
I went to McDonalds yesterday placed my order (the same one I always order) was given the price and drove through to the pay window and was told they didn't have an apple pie so I said I would take another kind then the girl raised the price I to9ld her she was wrong then she lowered the price to less than it should have been when I corrected her for a second time she changed the price again I corrected her and her comment to me was I DON'T LIKE YOUR ATTITUDE! what I'm the customer and she doesn't like my attitude I was going to leave when another teen girl came over told me I was right and she was sorry for any trouble they may have caused. The second girl should get $15 an hour but the first shouldn't be paid at all. I get fast food once or twice a week and I would guess that 1/2 the time they get the order wrong. I guess what I'm trying to say is some should get more money for the work they do but most shouldn't get as much as they do
Aug 28, 2013 11:02PM
i don't feel they should raise the minimum wage. do to the fact that people that make over minimum wage will not see pay increases do to the fact that the company will have to pay the ones that do work for minimum wage higher wages. in return a hamburger is going to cost twice as much as it does now and it will make it harder for even more people to afford a hamburger. to be honest i have worked in fast food too it sucks but in return it made me not to be so lazy in bettering myself cause i want to make more an hour. i feel the ones that r complaining about the wage, there the ones that r to lazy to go make something of themselves. sorry but that's my opinion on this subject. but if the  government makes all theses company's give everyone a raise across the broad i'm down with the raise of minimum wage. BUT WE ALL KNOW THAT'S NOT GOING TO BE THE OUTCOME
Aug 29, 2013 8:54AM
For those saying "get a second or third job, go back to school"... I say to you:
Must be nice to continue to live in a bubble reminiscing about how good years gone past were.

The truth, the reality, of CURRENT times in the U.S. is nothing like it was years ago.  In the aftermath of the 2008 DEEP Recession, it's quite difficult for many just to find ONE job, let alone more than one.  And job opportunities have shifted from full-time to part-time for the past 2 decades.  While pay has remained stagnant and in many cases has dropped with the shift from hiring those within our borders to hiring those outside our borders.  And along with the stagnation of wages, benefits have been being dropped across the board for the majority of workers, from employers eliminating their participation in 401K and other retirement plans and healthcare for their employees to cutting paid vacation & holidays & sick days to even eliminating bereavement leave.  All the while we continue to see everything else rise in costs, including the costs of upper management salaries particularly those in management whose titles begin with C and end with O.

The truth, the reality of CURRENT times in the U.S. is that Capitalism combined with deregulation and everything being offered under the Free Market umbrella, including healthcare, has taken the U.S. from being the true Number One country of the world to being Not So Much So.  We are falling behind in every aspect of a country, wages, healthcare, education, etc... yet are at the top of the list when it comes to the number of persons in prison and the number of gun related deaths.  Yea, we are #1, but not where it counts in order to have a sustainable economy.

I remember those times you are referring to.  The time when companies paid decent wages, provided great benefits, CARED about their employees.  And during that time, there were plenty of jobs that would sustain a families needs and the U.S. as a WHOLE prospered, corporations and the people.

So why is it now that corporations can't do the same today and allow our country to once again prosper as a whole?  My answer is that THEY CAN, but they would have to pull some of that $21 TRILLION that is stored off shore, just sitting there and doing nothing.  Put THAT money to good use and help put this country back on top.  We can NEVER be on top again as long as we continue to deprive the majority of our citizens at least enough in wages to afford the basics of life.
Aug 29, 2013 9:05AM
I think that all the fast food places should close for 1 week and fire everyone, train high school kids to do the job.  This is a BIG joke! $15.00 to say " Do you want fries with that ".  These jobs were not meant to be a full time gig.  These jobs are for kids going to school and collage kids trying to make EXTRA money, not meant to support a family!  Are these people that work at these fast food places MORONS!  If you want more money, go get training to do a REAL JOB!  Don't want to work for min wage....QUIT!
Aug 29, 2013 12:22AM
End the argument cut the C.E.O.'s pay distribute it through the ranks. No body should be making millions of dollars a year sitting at a desk and taking credit for others work. Not all company Presidents and V.P.'s do it but a lot do.
Aug 29, 2013 9:08AM
Fast Food jobs ARE NO LONGER only for high school or college kids.  Since the 2008 DEEP Recession many ADULTS have been forced to take these types of jobs in order to have ANY job at all.

Next time you go to a fast food place, don't use the drive thru, park you vehicle and WALK IN.  Take your time to actually LOOK at everyone behind the counter.  I mean ACTUALLY LOOK as we know how humans are, we don't actually like looking.

I am certain you will find, and FINALLY realize, that a good portion of those working behind those counters are adults.  They are people who did go to college.  They are people who did work hard, some even for decades.

The truth, the CURRENT truth, is very much different than the TRUTH of yesteryear and for many people, these are the only jobs available, no matter the education level or work ethics.  And while you're at it, remember that in CURRENT times, college graduates are moving back home because they simply CANNOT get a job because there simply AREN'T any to be had. 
Aug 30, 2013 12:02AM
I think the funniest (or saddest) thing I ever encountered at a fast food restaurant was when I was ordering some chicken nuggets. I ordered 6 nuggets and the girl said to me "we only sell them by the 1/2 dozen". Truly...I was lost for words.
Aug 29, 2013 11:24PM
I worked a minimum wage when I was in Junior College. That was the last one. I was not dumb enough to start a family. At 15 dollars an hour for minimum wage in Australia. A Big Mac costs 4.50 there. I do not eat a McDonalds.
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