A new study by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley reveals that 52 percent of fast-food workers are forced to enroll their families in public assistance programs to get by, costing American taxpayers almost $7 billion annually.

Funded by Fast Food Forward, the report shows that fast food workers in front-line positions, like cooks, are enrolled in public assistance programs, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at more than twice the rate of the overall workforce.

“This is the public cost of low-wage jobs in America,” said UC Berkeley economist Sylvia Allegretto, co-chair of the Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics. “Yet it remains hidden in national policy debates about poverty, employment and public spending.”

The fast food industry is a $200 billion-a-year industry, but most jobs pay at or near minimum wage, and only 13 percent of jobs provide health benefits. The low wages and benefits, combined with an average workweek of only 30 hours, contribute to the need for public assistance–although even full-time fast food workers working 40 hours per week or more have to turn to assistance programs.

On top of that, two-thirds of fast food workers are adults over the age of 20, with 68 percent acting as the main wage earners in their families, and a quarter raising at least one child. Seventy-three percent of all front-line workers are women, and 43% are black or Latino.

The report was based on an examination of industry workers not in management positions who worked at least 10 hours per week for at least 27 weeks a year between the years of 2007 and 2011. It comes at a time whenfast food workers around the nation are campaigning for $15 hourly wages.

Media Resources: NPR 10/16/13; UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education 10/15/13; UC Berkeley News Center 10/15/13; Feminist Newswire 5/13/13, 7/31/13, 8/27/13

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