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What Would a Big Mac Cost if Fast-Food Workers' Won Higher Wages?


The movement for higher wages for fast-food workers is growing as organizers plan day-long strikes on Thursday in a hundred U.S. cities and protests in a hundred more, the New York Times reported yesterday. Economists remain uncertain what would happen if fast-food workers got their way: Policy-makers and economists have speculated that raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour, as campaigns like Fight for 15 and Fast Food Forward demand, could result in a rise in employment, a rise in unemployment, a decrease in public spending on welfare programs, the replacement of waiters by robots, and/or an increase in workers’ efficiency and a reduction in employee turnover.

Another thing economists can’t agree on: Would in an increase in labor costs mean an increase in meals costs at the checkout counter?

One study by the Employment Policies Institute found that each 10 percent increase in the minimum wage translates to a 1.6 percent rise in prices. According to a different set of calculations by Columbia Journalism Review, doubling the current minimum-wage salary at McDonald’s would mean a 25-percent increase in prices. There are many factors at play in setting price, from fluctuations in the cost of raw materials and transportation to the state of the economy at large—but we used these two sets of calculations to estimate what menu items would cost if fast-food workers made at least $15 per hour.