The Reality Of Working In The Fast Food Industry

Fast food workers are striking for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Is that reasonable?What's it like to be a fast-food worker in America? The working conditions in the fast food industry have recently been under harsh criticism, thanks to workers' walkouts and protests in New York and most recently in Chicago on Wednesday. Workers are demanding a pay raise to $15 per hour, a significant increase given that the average pay is about half that. Even though food preparation is the third most common job in the country, the average salary for the gig is just $18,720 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The workers also are demanding full-time schedules so that they can receive benefits. Is this fair? What are conditions like inside America's fast-food chains?

AOL Jobs' "Lunchtime Live" discussed these issues Friday with Ken Margolies, an associate director at the Worker Institute at Cornell University, and two organizers from the Chicago protest, the Reverend Liz Munoz and Shani Smith.

During the chat, Munoz explained why the current industry practice of paying workers a minimum wage salary of $7.25 an hour isn't enough. "If you're living in Chicago, you need to be making at least $17 an hour just so you don't have to rely on public assistance," she said. "We're talking about a bare minimum here for families to support themselves. People can't work in a food industry and then not feed their families."

More:40% Of Fast Food Workers Think Their Jobs Might Make The World Worse

AOL Jobs invited representatives from fast food chains including McDonald's to join the discussion, but no one was made available.

The industry trade organization, the National Restaurant Association, did release a statement to AOL Jobs defending the sector's current pay model. "The minimum wage is typically a starting wage," Sue Hensley, a spokesperson for the association confirmed via e-mail. Nevertheless, she wrote, the "industry provides opportunities for millions of Americans, women and men from all backgrounds, to move up the ladder and succeed..., with 80 percent of owners and managers having started their careers in entry-level positions."

Do you think fast food workers should be paid more? What are the opportunities for advancement in chains? Share your comments below.

See below for highlights from the chat:

Lunchtime Live - The Reality of Working in the Fast Food Industry.M4v

For the full video chat, go here.

Update: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. EDT, April 26, 2013.

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