The current U.S. federal administration has failed to control inflation, which reached a 40-year record high in the summer of 2022. Analysts have stated that decision-makers forged ahead on spending that placed the economy in a precarious position, despite warnings against initiatives that would increase the cost of living for the average American. These initiatives have left citizens to foot the bill across several goods and services, including food.
The USDA stated that in 2023, food costs would increase between 5-7.1%, and numerous people have highlighted their disdain for the spike in grocery and food-away-from-home costs. One of these people is a TikToker named Ms. Warmie (@mrs.warmie), who posted a trending clip to the popular social media platform about the price of a meal at Panda Express.
In her video, Ms. Warmie states that the federal minimum wage is so low that a person cannot even afford the cheapest meal at Panda Express after an hour of work.
The video has received over 12,000 views since Ms. Warmie posted it on Jun. 16.
@ms.warmie What has inflation done to my lunch? How much is it to buy lunch in America? How much is an average lunch cost in America? How much is the U.S. federal minimum wage in 2023? Can minimum wage buy you lunch? #inflation #inflation2023 #inflation2023😟 #lunch #lunchfood #lunchidea #lunchideas #7dollars #8dollars #federalminimumwage #minimumwage #minimumwagestruggles #minimumwagecheck #mswarmie ♬ original sound – GLOSS
In the video, Ms. Warmie shows a small bowl of chicken, vegetables, and white rice. She then shows her receipt, which indicates that she ordered a “Panda Bowl.” The bowl cost $7.90 before tax and $8.39 after tax.
“The $7.25 U.S. federal minimum wage is not enough to buy the cheapest Panda Express on the menu,” she writes in a text overlay.
Fast Food Menu Prices has broken down the aggregate prices of Panda Express’ menu options by state. As of June 2023, Mississippi seems to have the lowest prices, with the cheapest adult meal being a bowl that costs $6.13. Washington, D.C., appears to have the highest prices, with a bowl that costs $8.44.
Ms. Warmie seems to specifically refer to the cheapest adult meal options in her video, as kid’s meals and a la carte options cost well below minimum wage in several states. It is unclear where she is located.
Ms. Warmie also addresses inflation in the video’s caption, questioning why the cost of buying lunch at a fast food establishment is prohibitively expensive for minimum wage employees: “What has inflation done to my lunch? How much is it to buy lunch in America? How much is an average lunch cost in America? How much is the U.S. federal minimum wage in 2023? Can minimum wage buy you lunch?”
Forbes reports that despite across-the-board salary increases in 2022 in certain job sectors, these increases in worker pay are not keeping up with inflation.
“At year-end, another WTW survey reported the average U.S. salary increase grew to 4.2%, but still a third below the 2022 U.S. inflation rate of 6.4%,” the outlet reports. “As U.S. inflation trends downward in 2023, the projected average total salary increase has risen to 4.6%.”
One commenter who replied to Ms. Warmie’s post said that the economic picture isn’t as dismal for all service industry workers, stating that Panda Express employees at the store they frequent earn considerably more than minimum wage.
“At my local panda Express they claim they pay 19-21 an hour depending on experience. so at least they pay enough for their employees to eat there,” the commenter wrote.
Someone else echoed this sentiment, highlighting their children’s hourly rates at their jobs.
“I’ve got a 15 yr old making $15 this summer, and a 16 yo that’s got a ged $19,” they said.
Another TikToker stated that while the federal minimum wage is $7.25, the number of people who only make minimum wage has decreased.
“The percent of the workforce making minimum wage has plummeted over the last 60 years,” they noted.
According to Statista, the number of businesses paying minimum wage has dropped by .1% from 2021 to 2022.
The Daily Dot contacted Panda Express via email and Ms. Warmie via TikTok comment for further information.