A series of protests around the country on Thursday aimed to put pressure on fast-food restaurant employers to raise their employees' wages. Called the "Fight for $15," the aim is straightforward: ensure a $15-per-hour wage for workers at McDonald's, Burger King and the like.
We were curious how those wages look currently. So we dipped into Bureau of Labor Statistics data to find out. (The most recent data set is over a year old, we'll note, representing May 2013.) We compared a number of data points: the wage and employee counts for fast food cooks (which seems like the best approximation for all restaurant employees) and wages for chief executives, legislators, and overall for every state.
Here's what we found. (On each of the following maps, darker colors indicate a higher number. Blank states mean no data was available.)
Fast food wages are pretty even.
In May 2013, the top hourly wage for a fast food cook was in Connecticut, at $11.69. The low was $8.18 in West Virginia. On average, they make $9.09 an hour.
CEO wages, predictably, were much higher.
The range of hourly wages for CEOs (as though CEOs are paid hourly) was much wider. In Connecticut, a CEO makes over $100 an hour. In Guam, the figure is only $42.77. The average is $81.44 an hour.
CEOs make more in an hour than fast food cooks make in a day.
It doesn't take much math to figure out that CEOs must make about nine times what fast food cooks make, given the averages above. The actual figure is 8.87 -- meaning that an average fast food cook needs to work for 8.9 hours to match the earnings of an average CEO.
And that's just an average chief executive in the state. The term encompasses a lot of people you might not think of as a CEO, like the guy that owns a small accounting firm somewhere. It's safe to assume that a lot of CEOs easily outpace that figure.
Legislators make less than twice what fast food cooks make.
The caveats here are nearly limitless. But taking annual legislator data and breaking it down for 40-hour workweeks, 52 weeks a year suggests that lawmakers don't make that much more than fast food cooks -- 1.8 times as much on average. The most lopsided state is New York, where they make four times as much. In New Hampshire, legislators make less than fast food cooks, on average.
However, legislators 1) often have other jobs at the non-federal or state level and 2) rarely work 52 40-hour weeks a year.
Fast food cooks make 43 percent of the average salary nationally.
Average hourly wages in each state aren't generally much higher than what the fast food cooks are making. Which makes sense: the cooks make near the legal minimum, and a lot of people earn wages in the lower end of the spectrum. (Among all occupations in all states, the 50th percentile salary is $16.57 an hour.)
And now, the kicker.
Raising fast food cooks' wages to $15 an hour nationally would cost about $117 million a week.
As we said, the BLS data also has estimated counts of how many employees work as fast food cooks in each state. If we take their average salaries and figure out how far away from $15 they are and then multiply by the number of employees, we can figure out that a wage boost -- just for cooks, mind you -- would cost the country $2.9 million an hour.
That's $117.2 million a week, or $6 billion a year. For reference: In 2013, fast food restaurants had revenue of an estimated $160 billion.