Living on a McDonald’s budget

I learned to set up a budget sometime in middle school. I remember pretty clearly setting up my columns and rows on graph paper, making up a monthly income, and then factoring in expenses. Of course, as an adult, the numbers are always more complicated than what you can imagine as a kid, and budgeting is less of an exercise than a discipline.

It is a discipline with which McDonalds, a company that in 2012 had $27 billion in revenue, has decided to try to help its employees out. The fast-food mega-chain has partnered with Visa to launch a new website called "Practical Money Skills for Life." The site includes "calculators" for things like how to get out of debt, how to decide what you can afford for a car payment, and how to save for college.

But something curious comes up when you check out the Budget Journal. In the "income" section of the budget, there is a line for 1st job and a line for 2nd job. It is hard not to read something into the fact that McDonalds cannot put together a budget plan for its employees without simply assuming that most of them have a second job. More specifically, there is a built-in assumption that there will not be enough money to cover expenses without a second job. (I also couldn't help but notice that in the sample budget, health insurance cost $20. In what world? Canada? Additionally, the budget includes no room for things like food and clothing, which are fairly standard budget items.)

This budget comes on the heels of an announcement that McDonalds is making "Pay Cards" available to its employees. Under this program, employees will not be issued a check, but instead can have money loaded onto a card that will function as a debit card. Employees can access the money by withdrawing it from an ATM, but that method means that they will have to pay ATM fees each time they withdraw cash from their card.

Let me make something clear: I think the budgeting is good. If companies can help their employees to spend and save wisely and to be financially independent, I think that's great. But I think that when a company has to assume that it's employees have to have a second job to make ends meet, it says something not only about that company, but about the system in which we live and work generally. A system in which a person can work and still not make ends meet is not a just system.

Catholic teaching is pretty clear on this matter: Work is part of what gives us dignity. A couple of weeks ago, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said that "And conversely, a wage that does not even allow a worker to support a
family or meet basic human needs tears her down and demeans her dignity. The worker becomes just another commodity."

Employees deserve to be fairly paid for their work. Once workers have a just wage, then we can start talking about realistic budgets.

Image: MacDonalds Timessquare, selbst fotographier [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

About the author

Kira Dault

Kira Dault is a former associate editor at U.S. Catholic.