SACRAMENTO — Low wages paid by the fast-food industry come with a high public cost for California taxpayers, academics and advocates for the working poor told state lawmakers.
Workers at hamburger, pizza and other, mainly franchise, eateries are paid at near-minimum-wage levels, making them eligible for public assistance that totaled an average of $717 million a year in California from 2007 to 2011.
The condition of low-wage fry cooks and sandwich makers was the focus of a joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly labor committees Wednesday. The inquiry was held in the wake of a 60-city protest in August by fast-food employees. Protesters, backed by the Service Employees International Union, called for collective bargaining and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Simone Sonnier Jang, a mother of two who works at a Los Angeles McDonald's, said she wouldn't be able to survive financially without subsidized housing, day care and medical care for her children and cash assistance.
"Without that I wouldn't be able to pay rent, cover the cost of utilities," she said, "and I wouldn't be able to buy my own food."
The drain on the safety-net funding is alarming, said Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina). "The taxpayer should not have to subsidize one industry," he said.
The movement got a boost in September when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation raising the California minimum wage from $8 to $10 an hour, in two steps, by 2016.
Much of the data...