Actor James Franco penned an essay that was published in the Washington Post Thursday, in defense of low wage fast-food jobs, and it has a lot of people talking.
In the essay, titled “McDonalds was there for me when no one else was,” the 37-year-old actor recounts his short time working for the company at a location in the San Fernando Valley in 1996, saying at the time he had no other options for work.
“I was treated fairly well at McDonald’s. If anything, they cut me slack. And, just like their food, the job was more available there than anywhere else,” he wrote.
Franco spoke about corporate attempts to boost sales by offering “hot, fresh food,” selling outlets to independent owners, and cutting $300 million in costs.
“How this cost cut will affect jobs remains unclear,” said the actor. “But I want the strategy to work. All I know is that when I needed McDonald’s, McDonald’s was there for me. When no one else was.”
According to CNNMoney, minimum wage in 1996 was $4.75, which equates to $7.11 today, and falls a few pennies below the current minimum wage.
Franco did not mention how much he was paid while working at McDonald’s, but did disclose he wasn’t living well.
He recalled sharing an apartment with two other struggling actors, sleeping on the couch of a rental apartment, and eating cheeseburgers that were to be thrown out at the end of each night.
Those advocating for better wages and working conditions at McDonald’s have argued most fast-food employs are actually people trying to support families. Not struggling actors or teenagers.
“If he thinks McDonald’s provides opportunities for people who need to find a job quickly, I can’t argue with that,” David Cooper, economic analysis with the Economic Policy Institute, told CNNMoney. “But you have a lot more people taking jobs at McDonald’s who aren’t struggling actors or students. It’s people trying to support a family.”
Workers who earn less than $12 an hour today are 36-years-old on average, according to a study by Cooper, and one in four are also supporting children.
The results show only 11% of those employees are teenagers.
Furthermore, almost 40% of fast food workers are at least 25 years old and 30% are teenagers, says the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Most of the workers earn more than the Federal minimum-wage, 70% are making about $10.09 an hour.
An additional study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research confirmed more fast food workers are all older adults. It also discovered 70% of these workers are making $10.09 an hour or less.
“It’s a real privilege to do what [James Franco] did, just work a few months and leave when he wanted to,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie with the National Emoyment Law Project. “The demographics of the fast food industries has shifted to more adults, more people with college degrees who can’t find other work.”
While McDonald’s did not comment about the demographics of its workforce, the company did commend Franco’s essay for showing its workers value their employment.
“Millions of people work at McDonald’s for their very first job, including many celebrities,” spokeswoman Becca Hary said. “They have fun, make friends, and most important, gain valuable job skills that last a lifetime.”
To read Franco’s essay in full, click here.