Fast food workers strike: What's it like to live on fast food wages?

File photo: Wikimedia Commons

As thousands of low-wage fast food workers walk off the job Thursday demanding better treatment and higher pay, all Pamela Powell really wants is her gas back on.

Powell, a New York resident who makes $9 per hour at a Great Wraps franchise, is one of the more than 3,000,000 workers nationwide living on a fast food wage. She says the only way to survive is to sacrifice.

"Right now, the gas is off. I've had the lights cut off too, but it's kind of hard to live without lights," Powell said.

Powell and millions of others work these fast food jobs for less than 40 hours per week, meaning they don't get benefits. It's because of that struggle that workers are taking to the streets, just as they did in many major cities last month.

For Shenita Simon, a Brooklyn resident who makes $8 per hour at KFC, eating every day is a challenge.

"Either my husband eats today and I eat tomorrow, just to make sure my kids eat," she said.

The average fast food worker makes just under $19,000 per year. Compare that to the income level that defines poverty for a family of four - $23,000 - and its clear that most of the workers struggle just to make ends meet on a daily basis.

In a statement, the National Restaurant Association says that there should be a debate on fair wages, but it has to be based on fact. They also say that their low-wage workers aren't doing as badly as ones in other industries.

"The facts show that the majority of workers who earn the minimum wage in the United States are not employed in the restaurant industry," the NRA says.

It's of little comfort to people like Powell and Simon, who continue to work in an attempt to support their children and families.

"I'm not ever going to stop dreaming for my children," Simon said. "They want to be ballerinas, and we cannot pay for it right now, but we're going to give it to them one day."