Just as the top-paying jobs are dominated by a single industry -- medicine -- many of the worst paying jobs fall into the food service industry. And, yes, fast food is at the top of the worst-paying list.
The top two worst-paid jobs in the United States are the fast-food cook and the fast-food preparer-server, the latter of which pulls double duty to prepare food behind the counter and serve it to customers at the counter.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines chefs and cooks as food workers who "mix, and cook ingredients according to recipes, using a variety of equipment, including pots, pans, cutlery, ovens, broilers, grills, slicers, grinders, and blenders" [source: BLS].
Fast-food preparers-servers, who have the dubious distinction of being the worst-paid workers in the United States, generally do not have the pleasure of working with ingredients or any equipment beyond heating and drink-dispensing machinery. In fact, in many fast food restaurants, there's very little actual cooking going on.
Take the hamburger, the ultimate symbol of the fast food world. Burgers are mass-produced and frozen in factories far, far away from the restaurants where they will eventually be consumed. After distribution companies ship the burgers to the restaurants, food preparers-servers thaw the frozen burgers and reheat them on grills or in other heating machinery. Once heated, the burgers are wrapped up and slid beneath a heat lamp or in a depository designed to keep the food warm. Food preparers-servers take your order at the counter or over a pair of drive-through headphones. They take your money, give you your change, then stuff a paper bag with your burger and a box of fries, which were deep-fried elsewhere in the fast food assembly line process. Meanwhile, a soda dispenser was automatically pouring you a cola. The server hands you your bag of food and accompanying beverage. One more customer served.
As of 2006, there were 2,503,000 fast-food preparers-servers in the United States [source: BLS]. The job's minimal requirements in education and experience make it extremely popular among teenagers looking to make their first bucks in the real world. But, partially because of the low pay -- the worst in the country -- the turnover rate is quite high. There will always be food preparation-serving positions available. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 2,955,000 of these workers by 2016 [source: BLS].
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