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'Super-size' strike: Why fast-food workers walked out for higher wages

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While a young workforce and quick turnover have traditionally characterized the fast-food industry, protesters say the Great Recession caused more parents and older workers to rely on fast-food jobs. But they can’t survive on current wages, they say.

“Because of the difficulty of getting jobs in general … for people with relatively modest education levels, you have a lot of people working in these companies who are trying to support a family based upon their earnings alone,” Ronald Ehrenberg, a professor of industrial and labor relations and economics at Cornell University, told Time. “That’s very, very difficult to do.”

Industry officials counter that the demographics of fast-food workers haven’t substantially changed. Officials at the National Restaurant Association say only 5 percent of restaurant employees earn the federal minimum wage and that 7 of 10 fast-food workers earning an entry-level wage are under the age of 25.

Moreover, the number of strikers is also only a small percentage of the roughly 2.4 million fast-food workers in the United States, opponents say.

Supporters point to a study by the Economic Policy Institute that calculated that 88 percent of workers in jobs paying less than $10 an hour are older than 20, and a third are older than 40, reports USA Today.

At the federal level, President Obama and some members of Congress have pressed for a raise in the minimum wage – but nowhere near the protesters’ demands of $15 an hour. Mr. Obama supports a $9-an-hour minimum wage.

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