The Challenges of Living on Minimum Wage
Have you ever had a job that paid minimum wage? Millions of Americans either have or currently are working such a job. As a college and graduate student I often worked for minimum wage, but I never had to depend on it for my total income. Unfortunately, a sizable portion of Americans today do. Many of them work 40 or more hours per week, but they cannot adequately cover their expenses, which, understandably, leaves them tense and anxious.
Thankfully, many states and cities have instituted minimum wages that surpass the national rate of $7.25. In some cities, the minimum wage is almost twice the federal rate. In many states and cities, however, the rate is only slightly above the national minimum and still does not provide enough money for people to pay their basic expenses.
Numerous polls indicate that a majority of Americans favor raising the minimum wage (an April 2016 poll, for example, found that only 20% of American adults think that the minimum hourly wage in their state should stay at $7.25). A recent CNN article points out that many of those who voted for Donald Trump in both rural counties such as Lee County Kentucky in the heart of Appalachia and major cities like Detroit support increasing the minimum wage.
Consider three examples. Donna Coomer, who lives in Beattyville in Lee County (which is the nation’s poorest white town) and raised three children for many years while working for minimum wage, pleads with Trump to restore jobs and increase the federal minimum wage. The 52-year-old grandmother currently manages a Valero gas station and earns a little above the minimum wage. Living on $7.25 an hour, she says, “was horrible.” She empathizes with the young mothers she employs who currently are paid this minimum, which has not increased since 2009.
One of them, Melissa Allen, age 34, works two minimum-wage jobs—one as a cashier at the Valero station and another cleaning tourist cabins—to try to provide for herself and her five-year-old son. Although she works more than 50 hours per week at these two jobs, Allen, like many other low-income Americans, struggles to pay her bills and her electric and water have periodically been shut off.
Many who voted for Trump in Lee County want the minimum wage to be raised. Although it is less expensive to live in Beattyville than many other places, says major John Smith, a Trump supporter, “you can't live on $7.25” an hour. He and many other residents call for increasing the minimum wage to $9 to $10 an hour.
The product of a dysfunctional family, sixty-two-year-old Peggy Stewart grew up in foster care in Detroit. She has worked since she was a teenager to help pay for her children’s basic necessities. She and her husband Jim have minimum wage jobs and rarely see each other because of their work schedules. Both have endured bouts of unemployment. While Jim voted libertarian, Peggy voted for Trump because but she believed he had the best plan to help low-income working people. The Stewarts pray Trump will push for raising the minimum wage.
In Suffer the Children we discuss at length the problems millions of Americans face as they try to make ends meet while working minimum wage jobs and provide moral, economic, and practical arguments for substantially raising the minimum wage.