Critics tell fast-food workers to stop complaining about their extremely low pay because that's just the reality of an entry-level job. Get a better job, the critics say, and you'll make more. The trouble is, there aren't any better jobs available.

Since the recession, low-wage work has made up an increasingly large share of new jobs in the U.S. economy, according to a new study from the Alliance for a Just Society. That’s due to a troubling recession and recovery trend of middle-wage jobs disappearing and low-wage jobs filling in the gap. (Story continues after chart, courtesy of the Alliance for a Just Society.)

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For every job that pays a median wage of at least $15 an hour there are 7 job seekers, the report found. The study defined a low-wage job as one that pays less than $15 an hour -- which happens to be the wage fast-food workers demanded in protests around the country last week.

In some places even $15 an hour may not be enough to get by. The definition of what constitutes a living wage varies nationwide, the report found. Workers in Montana need just $13.92 per hour to make ends meet, while New Yorkers need at least $22.66 per hour. Regardless of the variation, it still takes a lot more than the current $7.25 national minimum wage, or even the $10.10 minimum wage President Obama has proposed, to survive anywhere in the country.

Making ends meet certainly requires more than the $8.90 median wage for fast-food workers. That may explain why more than half of front-line fast-food workers rely on government assistance, according to a study from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Illinois Champaign.

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  • McDonald's Grew During The Recession

    McDonald's had <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2009/08/who_won_the_recession.html" target="_hplink">higher sales growth in 2008</a> than in 2006 or 2007, opening nearly 600 stores that year, according to Slate. The chain was able to take advantage of Americans' recession tastes: Cheap, convenient food.

  • They Handle Food That Isn't Really Food

    One <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/w2sv3/fast_food_workers_of_reddit_what_is_the_one_menu/" target="_hplink">Reddit user claiming to be an ex-McDonald's worker</a> said he once left a bag of chicken nuggets out on the counter for too long and "they melted. Into a pool of liquid." That didn't stop him from loving the nuggets, "still delicious," he wrote.

  • Fast Food Companies See Huge Profits On The Backs Of Low-Wage Workers

    More than <a href="http://www.nelp.org/page/-/Press Releases/2012/PR_MinWageCorpProfits.pdf?nocdn=1" target="_hplink">60 percent of low-wage workers</a> are employed by big corporations, according to a July analysis by the National Employment Law Project. And more than 90 percent of those companies were profitable last year.

  • The Average Pay For A Fast Food Worker In New York City Is $9 Per Hour

    Fast food workers in New York City make an <a href="http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2012/11/fast_food_forward_strike_nyc.php" target="_hplink">average of $9 per hour</a>, according to the Village Voice. That comes to about $18,500 per year for full-time workers.

  • Fast Food Workers Are Unlikely To Get Paid Sick Days

    For 40 percent of private sector workers, <a href="http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-11-28/news/bs-ed-sick-leave-20121128_1_sick-days-care-workers-service-workers" target="_hplink">taking a sick day</a> and still getting paid isn't an option, according to the Baltimore Sun. Fast food workers are especially likely to be part of that 40 percent.

  • The Boss Can Threaten To Take Workers' Health Care Away

    Many fast food workers saw their health benefits put at risk this year, if they even had them at all. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/09/papa-johns-obamacare-john-schnatter_n_2104202.html" target="_hplink">Papa John's CEO John Schnatter</a> said he would likely reduce some of his workers hours so that he wouldn't have to cover them in response to Obamacare. Jimmy John's founder, Jimmy John Liautaud told Fox News in October that <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/your-world-cavuto/2012/10/16/jimmy-johns-founder-business-owners-unsure-future" target="_hplink">he would "have to" cut workers' hours</a> so that he wasn't forced to cover them under Obamacare.

  • The Average Hourly Pay At Many Fast Food Eateries Is Less Than $8 An Hour

    The average hourly pay at McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Taco Bell is less than $8 an hour, according to <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/50015355" target="_hplink">salary data cited by CNBC</a>.

  • The Median Age Of A Fast Food Worker Is 28

    As more workers fight for limited jobs, many older employees are gravitating towards the fast food industry. The median age of a fast <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/11/mcjobs-should-pay-too-its-time-for-fast-food-workers-to-get-living-wages/265714/" target="_hplink">food worker is 28</a>, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by the Atlantic. For women, who make up two-thirds of the industry's employees, that age is 32.

  • Labor Leaders Rarely Try To Unionize Fast Food Workers

    Fast food worker's went on strike in late November in New York City, showcasing a rare effort to organize the industry's workers. Labor leaders often don't make an effort to organize these workers because the high turnover makes the challenge daunting.

  • Fast Food Workers Are The Lowest Paid Workers In NYC

    For all their work, fast food workers get very little dough. The lowest paid job category in New York City is "Combined Food Service and Preparation Workers, Including Fast Food," according to Bureau of Labor Department Statistics <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/11/29/in_rare_strike_nyc_fast_food_workers_walk_out/" target="_hplink">cited by Salon</a>.