A $16 McDonald's Meal Has Become the Latest Evidence of Very High Prices

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Nov. 28 2023, Updated 11:16 a.m. ET

A burger sitting on the edge of a table.
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • A video of a $16 McDonald's meal has continued to go viral for almost a year since it was first released.
  • The video is popular in right-wing circles as an indication of high inflation and a bad overall economy.
  • It resonates with many Americans, who feel that the economy is currently headed in the wrong direction.
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Videos go viral on TikTok for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, they depict something crazy or hilarious, and other times, they go viral because they resonate with an incredibly broad audience. One video that falls into that second category features a person discussing a $16 meal they purchased at McDonald's.

The video really just depicts a version of sticker shock, in which a person is surprised by the high price of the thing they just bought. In modern America, though, it's also being used as a weapon to suggest that the current state of the economy is bad.

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A burger sitting next to some fries with ketchup on them.
Source: Getty Images

What is the 16 dollar McDonald's meal?

In a video posted by a man in Idaho in late 2022, the man discusses the high cost of his McDonald's meal, which consisted of a burger, a soda, and a large fry.

“I get there’s a labor shortage. I get there’s wage increases and a number of other things,” he says in the video. “But $16? … It’s just crazy.”

Although the video is now a year old, it's continued to circulate online, particularly in right wing circles, as a potential cudgel against Democrats and their management of the economy.

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The video is certainly indicative of the high inflation that Americans have had to deal with in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are some things about the video that are, at the very least, misleading. The burger in question was not one of McDonald's standard menu items, but was instead a special “smoky” double quarter-pounder with bacon and cheese, an item designed to come at a surcharge.

According to The Economist, the average Big Mac in America costs $5.58, a $.75 increase from January 2020, just before the pandemic. Because McDonald's locations are franchised, prices can vary substantially across the country. A Big Mac combo meal can run as high as $18, but that price tag comes in the wealthiest parts of the country. Of course, these examples resonate with a broader feeling that the economy is not headed in the right direction.

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Source: TikTok/@topherolive

Americans are worried about the economy.

Whether the $16 McDonald's meal is misleading or not, it speaks to a broader concern that many Americans have about the state of the US economy. Polls have consistently found that vast majorities of Americans feel like the economy is headed in the wrong direction, in spite of economic data suggesting that employment is strong, wages are growing, and inflation is down.

Videos like this one certainly don't help matters, but they also speak to the way the economy is likely to remain top of mind for many as they start to consider who they should vote for in 2024.

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