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Large number of low-wage workers rely on public assistance programs

by AirTalk®

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Demonstrators march during a protest outside a McDonald's restaurant located inside of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum as part of a nationwide protest of fast food workers December 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Low-wage workers in 100 American cities are walking off their jobs today to push for a $15/hr living wage, the latest demonstration of strength in a grassroots movement that has been steadily gaining steam nationally since 2012.

The protests are backed by organizations like Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15, along with the Service Employees Union. The collective effort has grown from its initial focus on fast-food employees to include low wage workers in other industries, particularly those who work for big box retailers like Walmart.

In Los Angeles, the protest is taking place at McDonald's at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Vermont Avenue. While workers say that it is impossible for them to live on their current wages, the National Restaurant Association and some economists have argued that raising the hourly rate  would actually have the opposite effect, leading to layoffs and higher unemployment.

Adding to the debate is a newly-released study from UC Berkeley that finds that taxpayers are essentially subsidizing low-wage bank tellers to the tune of nearly $900 million a year in social benefits including food stamps and Medicaid. 

California has recently passed a bill that sets the state minimum wage at $10/hr. President Obama has thrown his support behind a proposal from congressional Democrats to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10/hr. With bipartisan gridlock firmly in place, there's little hope that the bill will go anywhere.

Ken Jacobs, Chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center; Co-Author of study entitled “Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry”

David Neumark, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Economics and Public Policy at UC Irvine

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