By Al Lewis
McDonald’s found itself mired in a public-relations flap last week over a sample budget it provided to its employees, advising them how to live on the low wages it pays.
The fast-food giant meant well, but its sample budget left out useful items like food, heat and gasoline, advancing the argument that nobody can really live on minimum wage.
Media reaction ranged from “hilariously obtuse” to “worthy of the Onion,” a reference to the freebie newspaper offering satire in an age when so many things satirize themselves.
There is an easy way out of this mess for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s /quotes/zigman/233369/quotes/nls/mcd MCD +0.50% . It is called leadership. Put Chief Executive Don Thompson on the McBudget. Show the world how to live like a CEO on less than $25,000 a year.
Last year, McDonald’s gave Thompson a compensation package worth $13.8 million, or more than 558 times what McDonald’s expects employees to make — from two jobs.
By adopting a McBudget, Thompson could end the debate over President Barack Obama’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is currently 20% less than it was in 1967—which is why so many people still eat at McDonald’s. Also see: 10 things Coke and Pepsi won’t tell you
Good thing the McBudget guide offers astonishing financial insights, such as “expenses are what you spend.” It also offers handy cost-cutting tips like “Borrow books and movies from the library,” and “Consider walking or riding a bike.”
There is an easy way out of this mess for McDonald’s. It is called leadership.
A bicycle could slash McDonald’s corporate aviation costs. It would eliminate the need for gasoline and support CEO Thompson’s weight-loss goals. In May, he boasted at an analyst conference that he’d lost 20 pounds by getting his “butt up” and “working out again” while still eating at McDonald’s “every single day.”
With a healthy lifestyle like that, I’m sure he can easily find health insurance for the $20 a month allotted in the sample employee budget.
My mom, who lives in the Chicago area, has an extra room she would happily rent to the CEO for less than the $600 a month allotted in the sample budget—heat and air-conditioning included. This would allow Thompson to afford a bicycle—which also wasn’t listed in the budget—or pay more than the $150 a month allotted for car payments.
I go to McDonald’s several times each week and order a $1 Diet Coke or iced tea. I load up on free refills, use the free Wi-Fi connection and watch senior citizens line up for discounted coffee, and single-parent families exploring the Dollar Menu. I am part of the reason McDonald’s employees are paid so poorly.
I would feel more comfortable knowing that a top corporate executive can live on a McBudget, too. Besides, if the minimum wage goes up, McDonald’s stock will go down, and we can’t have stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/zigman/627449 DJIA -0.17% going down. That is just un-American.
McDonald’s put out a statement saying the sample budget is “intended to help provide a general outline of what an individual budget may look like.” One of its best suggestions is that employees find a second job. With his credentials, Thompson could easily land additional work at Popeyes or Taco Bell. This would diversify his diet, too.
I should also note that while the sample budget somehow neglected to include food expenses, it also overlooked the employee discount on McRibs. You can make it on gelatinous pork sandwiches—at least when they’re in stock. Who needs a Happy Meal?