Mother Jones offers a fast food wage calculator showing how many hours a fast food worker with one child would have to work—or how much they'd have to be paid—in metro areas across the country to have a "secure yet modest living." In New York City, it's 144 hours a week. But, you may object, New York City is really expensive. Maybe a fast-food worker in a less expensive city can make a living.
Not so much. In Syracuse, New York, a fast food worker with a child would have to work 112 hours a week—or be paid $25.05 an hour, which doesn't make the $15 an hour fast food workers have been organizing around seem like so much—to have that secure yet modest living. In Detroit, where workers also filed suit, it's 106 hours or $23.65. This is why so many fast food workers require food stamps and other government assistance to get by—an estimated $1.2 billion for McDonald's—and why McDonald's actually acknowledged that fact when it told a worker to apply for food stamps and offered a sample monthly budget that required a second job and still only had room to budget $20 a month for health insurance. (Sure, if by "health insurance" you mean a bottle of aspirin and a box of Band-Aids.)
The wage theft McDonald's workers allege is illegal. Minimum wage, overtime, and paying workers for all the hours they work are not optional under our system of laws. But wage theft isn't the only problem these workers face. One of the biggest problems of poverty wages is far more basic, is true for the overwhelming majority of hourly fast food workers, and is legal. That's why it's time to raise the minimum wage.