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Low Wages and Real Lives

Jul 18, 2014 | By Simone Campbell, SSS

A couple of months ago I met Robin, a young woman in her mid-twenties, who works for minimum wage in a profitable clothing store chain. We were at the White House for President Obama’s signing of the executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers. She was excited that a good friend of hers would receive a raise because of this order. Her hope was that eventually she too would be able to get a raise.

After we had spoken for a time while we waited for the president, she talked a bit about how difficult it was to live on minimum wage – about $15,000 a year before taxes. She confided in me that “you wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I have to live in a homeless shelter because I can’t afford rent in this area.” I was stunned. I knew it was difficult to live on minimum wage, but had not known the enormous challenge just to get by. Robin is well-spoken and personable, with an electric smile, and yet she struggles every day just to get by. Raising the minimum wage would allow Robin to get her own place.

A few weeks later I met Adriana, who also works for minimum wage. She has a young child. She, too, is struggling. She has to pay $500 per month for child care and $240 for transportation. She is left with little more than $600 per month for rent, food, clothing, medical care, etc. Adriana says that it is almost impossible. The way she gets by is that she rents a room for herself and her young child in a house in the area. She is with other people she does not know who also rent rooms, but is so grateful to have a roof over her head. Raising the minimum wage would allow her to find a better environment for herself and her child.

A while ago, I met Billy and his wife, who both work for minimum wage. They decided that they would pool their salaries to get an apartment for themselves and their two boys, ages 14 and 6. In order to get food, they use food stamps (SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) during the day and go to St. Benedict the Moor free dining room every evening. Billy said he wished he didn’t have to do that, but he knew that he could not pay for food, especially for his growing sons. His 14-year-old had just been through a growth spurt and needed constant food. Billy told me that as a parent he could get by with eating once or twice a day, but growing children need to eat regularly. Raising the minimum wage would allow Billy and his wife to feed their hungry children without worry.