I’m making $21 an hour at McDonald’s. Why aren’t you?

By Louise Marie Rantzau
May 15, 2014

mcdonalds -- topI work for McDonald’s and I make $21 an hour.

No, that isn’t a typo. It’s really my salary.

You see, I work for McDonald’s in Denmark, where an agreement between our union and the company guarantees that workers older than 18 are paid at least $21 an hour. Employees younger than 18 make at least $15 — meaning teenagers working at McDonald’s in Denmark make more than two times what many adults in America earn working at the Golden Arches.

To anyone who says that fast-food jobs can’t be good jobs, I would answer that mine isn’t bad. In fact, parts of it are just fine. Under our union’s agreement with McDonald’s, for example, I receive paid sick leave that workers are still fighting for in many parts of the world. We also get overtime pay, guaranteed hours and at least two days off a week, unlike workers in most countries. At least 10 percent of the staff in any given restaurant must work at least 30 hours a week.

mcmoneyBut in New York last week, I met fast-food workers from around the world who aren’t as lucky as I am. We marched through Midtown Manhattan demanding a fair wage and respect at the workplace.

Many of the U.S. workers I met make less than $9 an hour. And unlike in Denmark, where most fast-food workers are young people looking to make extra money while in school, the vast majority of U.S. fast-food workers are adults trying to support their families. Roughly 70 percent are in their 20s or older, according to a recent study, and more than a quarter are raising kids.

I met Jessica Davis, for example, who works at a McDonald’s in Chicago and has two daughters— one 4 years old and the other 4 months old. After working four years at McDonald’s, she makes $8.98 an hour and has no stable work schedule.

How can fast-food companies expect employees to work hard but not pay them enough to live on? All fast-food workers should be able to support themselves while helping large companies like McDonald’s make huge profits.

Employees also deserve a voice in their workplace — as we have in Denmark — and McDonald’s should respect the right of employees in all countries to organize and speak for themselves.

McDonald’s didn’t give us our union. We had to fight for it. It was a five-year struggle that involved many demonstrations like the ones that will stretch across the globe on Thursday.

In Denmark, I will be in one of them.


PHOTO (TOP): Protesters march outside McDonald’s in Los Angeles, California, December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

PHOTO (INSERT): A customer exits a McDonald’s restaurant as members of ‘MoveOn’ shout slogans against McDonald’s in front of the restaurant in Times Square, New York, December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz


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Lastly… she isn’t paid $21 per hour, she is paid 115 Kroners (Danish currency as they don’t use the Euro). The cost of a McDonalds combo meal there? 65 Kroners. They pay about twice as much as average Americans. See the issue?

Posted by jimstark | Report as abusive

The questions never asked about jobs, worker benefits, and middle class.
1. We might start with exactly what is the middle class, besides wages, there are benefits, education(s), experience and skill sets (AKA what can you do productively). Might also include real wealth, since credit is the emperors clothing of most who think of selves as “middle class”. We can for now ignore reality, AKA what you own, as “middle class” in reality “Owns” very little, as clothes/TV/trips etc you do not really “own” until paid off.
2.Fast food-related type work AKA little education or skills required, highly replaceable needs to be evaluated.Are these actually “real jobs” or simply the last bastion of the lower end, uneducated, low end hourly workers. We must remember that not that far back, fast foods, paper routes, such jobs were nearly 100% staffed by HS/College kids, they were NOT adult, family supporting jobs. Not that far back hard to find anyone over 21 in such occupations. These jobs were simply a stop along the way for education, car, clothes and such for kids. Now if they are career adult jobs, along with lots of “new USA economy, mfg, other “services”, semi skilled labor, semi-functionally literate, all with limited to no REAL upward mobility, we then can discuss wages for adults,seniors, etc. We decide on the wages after we decide what these jobs are really worth and how that was based.

3 Is a semi-literate HS drop out with zero chance of upward mobility/30 hour part-timer worth 8/10/15/20hour. Since these part timers min wages-10-15 cancel, make most items unfordable, rent/HC/Retirement/food/utility/auto-ins and education/home ownership and other like items. Now we ask, since wages, and in truth qualifications for job so low, and the corporations only concern is profit for WS, who must pay these bills? MCD/WM/ and all, even small business (but profits there never asked when owners whine, justifiably or not, we never know). How can nation survive when 1/3 do not finish HS or graduate illiterate in most skills? Dare we ask?

4 Dare we ask, WHO IS GOING TO PAY THESE BILLS for life supporting functions? Please no more of the right’s Ver. 1.0 of either dodging the issue, or attacking such workers (but never their corp owners) of “just pull selves up by bootstraps as others do. What is omitted form the discussion is reality today is made up of wealth via legislation (AKA buy/employee the elected for profits).
5 Other big’gy, never discussed. that as “investment” bleeds off more from the economy, less goes to workers, less to Competitive world class R&D, updated mfg-worker upgrades/education/high tech, exports to compete at world class levels. That costs money which takes form WS”investors”. We have a sorry history since 80′s of bleeding companies with NO updated HW or workers training. Regan told us in 80′s ship mfg offshore, everyone will work at home with a PC, “keyboarding” was a hit, until reality burst that bubble as last mfg plant left. But we still hear the manta of “USA Business doing great in China” not said, Chine by law must own (profits?) 50+ of each business along with all the technology for free for “USA Co. to move there. What a deal for China”USA Co” which now exports all but jobs back here, off course “WS” loves it as WS/Banks record profits provide.

So back to the ole question, what are semi-literate/HS drop outs worth in wages.

Finally we must ask what are HS and College grads with equal of Basket Weaving degrees worth in world class competition? Not a secret we rank behind a lot of 2nd Tier nations in education, literacy and hi tech grads. Employers complain HS and some college grads can neither read nor write, ordinary math skills miserably absent. Note 3 million hi tech jobs in USA are not being filled due to lack of qualified workers, along with a dash of greed to hire lower paid H1A’s.
Well what are the workers who never took time to get educated, a value to employers really worth. Dare we stare that beast in the eye, dare we ask that reality, will we ask that reality?

Posted by chuck2 | Report as abusive

Make your case but make it with some honesty. What is the cost of living in Denmark, what are the income tax rates, what is the cost of the food sold etc etc. Just stating you make $21 means nothing. It’s cheap sloganeerng.

Posted by stuff27 | Report as abusive

Hmmm, what they don’t tell you is that a Big Mac meal costs 16 USD in Denmark. Will anyone pay 16 for a big mac meal? I know I wont

Posted by AKMcNeil | Report as abusive

Really? There is no way you can compare the wages from a very small country with less than 6 million people with extremely high taxes with one that is almost 350 million people with low or modest taxes.

Trust me I’m from Texas and have lived in Denmark for almost ten years and $21 (approx 114dkk) an hour is not a lot of money. Everything is at least 23%-28% more expensive if not more.

I’m really disappointed in Reuters that they would even publish this article. I guess they need the clicks.

Posted by Sadie03 | Report as abusive

…one of the many reasons Denmark is one of the happiest places in the world and the US is one of the least.

Posted by anarcurt | Report as abusive

I keep hearing comments like no one is going to pay twice as much to eat at McDonald’s. I find that ironic because I am paying at least twice as much for most expenses in life compared to 10-15 years ago. The cost of energy, education, food, and housing costs depending where you live in the country have at least doubled in less than 15 years. Why should we expect the cost of fast food to remain frozen in time?

Let wages rise and if necessary prices can be raised accordingly and fast food will still survive. It costs about twice as much to eat at McDonald’s than it did 20 years ago, 4-7x the cost 30-40 years ago, and we probably pay 10x as much to eat at McDonald’s compared to 50 years ago. Despite all those price increases Americans still eat at McDonald’s.

Bottom line is inflation exists and the economy adapts, some players in the economy will adapt others won’t but some other business will easily fill the void. $15+ an hour in 2018-2020 and beyond is not that outlandish when one takes inflation into account.

Posted by JKM81 | Report as abusive

Most that are criticizing the wage comparison make an equally invalid comparison themselves in comparing cost of living.

If the bulk of those food cost differences are from VAT then that has NOTHING to do with McDonalds and everything to do with the government.

As far as some relevant studies, check out:

http://www.investindk.com/Why-Denmark/A- great-place-to-live

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

Two obvious problems.
1. Denmark has the 3rd highest cost of living in the world. Almost exactly twice that of the US.
2. Denmarks income taxes are also WAY higher than the US.

In other words the purchasing power of the US is far greater than Denmark making this article very misleading.

Posted by 24marinematt | Report as abusive

well that is half of the truth… as in Denmark they have to pay $21/hr because taxes are 40% so I just calculated after tax they bring home $2250 which is 12,000 Danish Kroner…. which is a basic survivable salary in Denmark… because everything is twice as expensive as it is in the U.S.
So articles like this don’t paint the entire picture….

And seriously after living in Denmark for 5 years …for sure it is NOT the happiest country in the world… I’ve never met more severely depressed people (almost every man I’ve met in there was on anti-depressants) than in Denmark… Almost everybody struggles with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as the weather sucks… it’s cold and overcast 9-10 months out of the year…. people drink in there insanely… the norm for a friday/sat night outing for a Danish man is to have 15-25 beers… they get really “trashed”..as you can also legally drink on the streets…and there is no age limit as it is in the U.S. Why people drink so much? because the weather is cold and depressing most of the year…. Happy people normally don’t drink so excessively…

Posted by RLiam | Report as abusive

The author doesn’t sound as if she has any aspirations to obtain a higher level, more productive job. And why would she when she can earn high wages with minimal effort? (If she is in school and working towards something better, then I apologize-but I do not agree that a job at McDonalds merits high wages and benefits).
Working to advance yourself is just that-work, and often hard work. I always assumed a job at McDonalds was a stepping stone along that road, a way to learn self-discipline and work ethics, while earning some extra cash-not a living-wage job.

Posted by beejaycat | Report as abusive

So, one in four McDonald’s employees are in their 20 ‘ s and supporting kids? The corollary is that three in four are not. A quarter is not an alarmingly high number.

And for that quarter, I’ll guarantee you getting knocked up single at that age is indicative of the behavior that landed you working at McDonald’s in the first place!

Posted by shawnmer | Report as abusive

“I work for McDonald’s and I make $21 an hour.” Dude forgot to mention that they charge $14 bucks for a burger. That’ll last lone in the US.

Posted by ctmom | Report as abusive

In America, no one wants to spend $10 for a quarter pounder with cheese. Maybe in Denmark, people are used to getting robbed when they buy a hamburger. I imagine you HAVE to get paid well just to eat at that rate. It sounds like a rather vicious circle you have created for yourselves over there. Fact is, work at a fast food joint is an entry level job. No responsible person would even consider having a family until they had earned some work experience and could make more money to support themselves.

Posted by StephenThomas | Report as abusive

“I’m guessing dd606 failed math and economics. The labor cost has little to do with pricing, it is the competitor’s price that drives it.”


Actually, I never failed anything… Went to a good college, and own my own business. Which, guess what… Sells things to the public. What are your credentials? Labor cost has little to do with pricing? You must be high. Payroll is the largest expense you have in most retail. Increasing your employees pay 50-100%, is huge… Enough to put most places out of business. The public dictates what something is worth, and once they do… they will not pay more. And what the US public thinks a crappy hamburger is worth, is just a few bucks. So then you adjust your expenses to be able to do that. But I guess you plan to change the entire retail model and the public’s perception of value, for a whole continent? Ha! Good luck with that. You’re living in a dream world.

If the public wants things to be better… Stop buying the cheapest stuff possible, and get ready to pay way more taxes. Anybody living in the US going to do that? Didn’t think so. So quit comparing us to places like Denmark.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive

Did this article fail to mention that a hamburger in Denmark cost $9.50? lol

Posted by suemarie000 | Report as abusive

I can imagine someone like this article’s author writing from the U.S. in 2006, an article titled:

“I’m a cashier at Home Depot and I just bought a house that cost $500,000. Why don’t you?”

Perhaps Danes are enjoying an “income bubble” like the housing bubble that we’ve lived through in the U.S. Is the Danish economy reaching a bubbling, boiling point based on their oil-production-based economy? As long as Denmark has oil and oil remains expensive perhaps this economy will not go bust. I think maybe the Danish economy is a one-legged stool.

Here in Arizona I don’t see too many Danish-built cars on the road. Food from Denmark on the shelves of my grocery store? Not so much… Danish airplanes flying through my blue skies? Nope, not those either…

For the sake of Louise Rantzau and her high paying job at McDonald’s, she better hope the Danish oil boom doesn’t go bust.

Posted by RickPowellAZ | Report as abusive

Randy549 YOU IDIOT the reason it costs 14 dollar us equivalent in Denmark to eat that sh*t is because DENMARK taxes junk food to discourage its consumption. FRESH FOOD IS CHEAPER IN DENMARK. You Muricans think you have it all figured out. Well you don’t.

Posted by Zapkvr | Report as abusive

Right, take your family of 4 to Micky D’s over there and spend 75 bucks for dinner. hahaha. What a joke.

Posted by CF137 | Report as abusive

Their hamburger is $5.37 so it is not that much higher than the U.S.

Posted by Kelly11 | Report as abusive

Sure, but a Danish worker is heavily taxed and the prices in McD Denmark are significantly higher. When that is said, no one should make a career at a fastfood joint, it’s a workplace for young adults and students.

Posted by Tummas | Report as abusive

Why? Because this isn’t Denmark, that’s why.

Posted by LowneWolfe | Report as abusive

@CF let me ask you. Would you work for terrible conditions, unstable work schedule and 8$ per hour? Thought not.

In Australia, MacDonald’s Employees are paid about 15$ -16$ / hour. Their big macs cost only about 50 cents more.

And look at it this way, if Micky D’s did charge 75$ per meal, perhaps this would motivate you to cook nutritious meals at home for you and your family so your kids can grow up healthy, instead of obese with issues like diabetes and the like.

Posted by Sister_Sage | Report as abusive

First of all, a combo meal is listed as 65 danish krone, which would be $11.93 USD which would be $47.72 for a family of 4. Perhaps learn how to math before commenting.

http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/cou ntry_result.jsp?country=Denmark

Removing the 25% VAT in Denmark, you end up with $35.79 which translates to $8.94 per meal.

Looking at the same site for Florida, the cost of a combo meal at McDonalds is $6.95 USD.

http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/cit y_result.jsp?country=United+States&city= Miami%2C+FL

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

My wife works for a company that had to raise their minimum wage do to the law. It cost the company nearly 200,000 dollars to raise the minimum wage for all of the employees. That in turn a raise all the prices in the store which impacted the customers. My wife has her MBA.

From an economical perspective forcing a minimum wage hike only drives the cost of living up. Where do people think the funds come from? It comes out of our pockets.

IMHO if you want to make as much as a college graduate. You should go to college.

Posted by LavaRoush | Report as abusive

I live in a suburb of Washington, DC (United States).

I am highly educated, having an undergraduate degree as well as a Master’s Degree. Currently in my steady salaried job I make $30/hour.

So if employees who are not nearly as educated as me, many whom have dropped out of high school, can make $15/hour does that mean I automatically get a pay increase to $45/hour? Or $60/hour? Do my years of education and hard work count for nothing?

From the day I turned 16 years old I started working 5 days a week after school and on weekends to make money- first I worked at Roy Rogers (a fast food chain) and then at KMart, so I have experience with this topic.

To think that someone is deserving of a “living wage” simply because they are alive is pretty demeaning to them.

There is an 18 year old black boy here in America who was just accepted to ALL EIGHT of our Ivy League schools. He does not come from a posh background but instead had family who fought tooth and nail to ensure his education. I sincerely hope that boy goes on to change the world- I know for a fact he is smarter than I am.

My point being here that McJobs are meant for teenagers and young 20-somethings, not people with families. Get your educations, learn a trade (electricans and plumbers actually make more than I do!), etc. Don’t settle. American is becoming the Land of People Who Settle.

That my friends, is pathetic.

Posted by kara1414 | Report as abusive

Denmark: $12 USD for a combo (vs $6.40in the USA), 45% average salary taxes (vs 30% in the USA), 51% higher consumer prices than in the USA…yeap, it is obvious AS TO WHY YOU MAKE MORE MONEY…..NOW GO BACK TO DANISH SCHOOL, LEARN MATH AND THE DEFINITION OF COST OF LIVING.

http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/com pare_countries_result.jsp?country1=Unite d+States&country2=Denmark

http://answers.google.com/answers/thread view?id=332116

Posted by FredBar | Report as abusive

“Removing the 25% VAT in Denmark, you end up with $35.79 which translates to $8.94 per meal.”

Perhaps learn how to math before commenting.
$11.93/1.25 = $9.54 per meal.

(VAT rates are ‘tax-exclusive,’ dude. http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing- book/improve/retail/exclusive-inclusive. cfm)

Posted by clubchampion | Report as abusive

For that kid of dough$ I can sit down and be served elsewhere. These kind of wages are more than skilled construction workers make. People hired to work at Micky Ds require no skills to start. This is definitely inflationary.

Posted by stoneon | Report as abusive

and that is why Danish are the Canadians of Europe :)

Posted by peter. | Report as abusive

Just for curiosity sake, I used an international cost of living comparison tool between Miami and Copenhagen. Everything is significantly more expensive with the average being 35% higher. That $21/hour would be a pricey $16.50/hour here, but a little more in line.

Posted by bluewater23000 | Report as abusive

So a Big Mac in Copenhangen costs, what, 1/3 to 1/2 of one minimum wage hour’s pay? That’s on par, or cheaper relative to the cost of a burger vs. minimum hourly wage in the US.

Also, a lot of people come down on McDonald’s employees, but they’re run like a hot, sweaty, greasy, high-output factory. Watch the kitchen next you’re getting lunch. Not the most intellectually stimulating career, but the employees toil through one hellish shift after another for laughably small wages (we all joke and point to McDonald’s jobs any time employment issues come up). I suspect a lot of posters know this and think of a McDonald’s job as their absolute no-jobs-in-my-field-since-the-layoffs-an d-now-I’m-three-months-past-due-on-rent last resort because we’ve had better jobs and know MickeyD’s doesn’t pay commensurate with the amount of work involved.

Posted by Parpyduck | Report as abusive

Sounds like the union in Denmark has helped this person a lot. Instead of pressuring having the government raise the national minimum wage, why don’t the fast food workers unionize?

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

Anyone who claims that labor cost does not drive cost must have spent most of their life living in academia. As a retired former business owner i can tell you labor cost is a major factor in the price you set. Before you are allowed to buy yourself a cup of coffee you legally must make sure that the employees are paid. The cost of paying these employees is the one single largest cost in operating a business. This is a domino effect since the cost of materials is set based on the suppliers labor cost. After 35 years in the same business i can easily say my two highest cost were labor and government regulations. You can sit up in your ivory towers of academia and look at charts and read all the data you want. But until you get out into the real world and operate a real business then you cannot comprehend what it takes to operate a business.

Posted by Ncrdbl1 | Report as abusive

The biggest problem with your story of how much you make is the fact that Denmark is a relatively small country and the amount of employees that McDonalds has to employee is small. So they can shift their global assets around to compensate the Union wage you make.

If all of the McDonalds on across the world had to pay the equivalent wage There would be less stores, more expensive food, less employees and so on.

Posted by scotch1337 | Report as abusive

Let’s do a bit of economics 101. The cost of a Big Mac is set by what the customer will pay. It is as high as it is, because the customer is willing to pay this exorbitant price. Even without wage increases to its employees, the cost keeps going up, because average customer wages keep going up and people can afford to pay (be gouged) more. The price of a Big Mac combo will increase to $16 when the customer is willing to pay that price, even if wages stay exactly the same. And, believe me, the cost of a Big Mac combo WILL increase to that price, sooner than later.

The difference between cost of production (of which wages are a very small percentage) and the cost of goods is called profit. Profit has been going up continuously, even through the recession. Even without a wage increase the cost of a Big Mac will continue to increase, because the disposable income of the customers keeps going up. The profit margin will continue to increase.

There is no link between the cost of a Big Mac and the minimum wage. There is only a link between profit margin and the minimum wage. The cost of a Big Mac is determined by the increase in the disposable income of the general public.

Stated more clearly, every time YOUR wage (middle class wages) goes up, the cost of a Big Mac will go up, even if the fast-food worker is paid exactly the same (or even less).

Posted by Justin_Thyme | Report as abusive

“And unlike in Denmark, where most fast-food workers are young people looking to make extra money while in school, the vast majority of U.S. fast-food workers are adults trying to support their families.”

Precisely, most fast-food workers in Denmark are NOT adults trying to support their families. Denmark doing well is not an effect of its high minimum wage. This article doesn’t even mention the costs of living in Denmark…

Posted by bv671 | Report as abusive

she forgot to say one thing: Africans are excluded from labor market, from exploitation, so, they are massively homeless in Denmark. homelessness and criminality are results of racist politics. so, Denmark is not so nice country as she described. Africans and Asians collect bottles to survive, during that time Danes drink like crazy and enjoy in their life. this 4 days is distortion festival in copenhagen, Danes drink like crazy and immigrants collect bottles like crazy, result: stores closed machines for exchanging of bottles. but surely, collecting bottles will bring them happiness for several days, then they will have to wait for next festival. Danes don’t need to wait, they can enjoy because they got job on the basis of nationality and color of skin.

Posted by vebsajt | Report as abusive

Why are so many of you willing to subsidize these companies that pay low wages? That money comes from your and my paycheck. I don’t give a hoot if the cost of a BigMac doubles. The percentage of my income that goes to service sector goods is a pittance relative to the part of my taxes that go to public assistance for people with jobs.

Posted by diluded0000 | Report as abusive

Come on. Tell the fine people here the cost of a Danish Big Mac and the average income in Denmark. Apples and oranges.

Posted by AZWarrior | Report as abusive

Why guess about prices, look them up!!! The average cost of a Big Mac in the US is $4.80 and the average cost of a Big Mac in Denmark is $5.37. A difference of 57 cents or roughly 12%. I think we could all deal with a 12% increase in prices if we could all get a $7.75 cent an hour raise. It is also true that tax payers are making up the difference for big companies. Kinda of messed up when million and billion dollar companies are on welfare.

Posted by bcsofnc | Report as abusive

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