Yes, that Big Mac meal may cost $18 — but there’s one good reason for it

– MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto, McDonald’s

If you’re hoping to gauge Americans’ lingering discontent with postpandemic price increases, look no further than the McDonald’s menu.

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You can find gripes on social media about a $5 chicken sandwich, $3 hashbrowns or a $5.50 Egg McMuffin , all of which some customers have called too pricey for a place known for cheap fast food.

The price of a meal at the classic burger chain has even hit $18 at one location — that’s what a Big Mac combo meal will run you at a rest stop in the wealthy town of Darien, Conn.

In New York City, the same combo of Big Mac, medium fries and medium soda costs $13.89 on DoorDash before any fees or delivery charges — or $17.79 if you swap the soda for a shake.

But those cost increases — so sharp that McDonald’s MCD is having a harder time pulling in lower-income customers, CEO Chris Kempczinski said on the company’s earnings call this week — may have a silver lining, at least for the folks working behind the counter.

Several months ago, the most significant factor pushing fast-food prices upward was the rising cost of food itself. Now, the No. 1 driver is the cost of labor, said Eric Gonzalez, a senior analyst covering the restaurant industry for KeyBanc Capital Markets. In other words, McDonald’s workers are making more money than they used to.

“I would have said food [costs] maybe a year and a half ago, but food inflation, I think, has become a lot more manageable,” he said. “Labor inflation is sticky.”

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