The Common Good

Mothers, Families Tell Struggles of Living on Minimum Wage

This post is reprinted to Sojourners with permission from the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative. To see the article in full, please click here.

The stories pastors, chaplains, and charity workers too often hear behind closed doors and through frustrated tears are being brought to light. Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Labor Seth Harris has hit the road to listen to people struggling to get by on the minimum wage.

Courageous people are publicly coming forward to tell their stories of personal pain, indignity, and frustration in the interest of creating the will to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.00 an hour by 2015.

The truth is, $9.00 an hour is not going to provide a living wage that creates dignified access to the family security and opportunity to realize potential that God intends for all. In fact, one person did directly tell Secretary Harris that $9.00 is insufficient. Yet, it is a start, and if it passes, it will make a difference for those who have not had a raise in years.

Here are a few of the stories people were brave enough to share with Acting Secretary Harris:

Staying Positive to Care for “the Least of These,” Despite Getting Her Lights Shut Off Four Times in a Year

Jane works at a homeless shelter in Atlanta, which pays a little more than her previous minimum wage job. Her lights have been turned off four times in the past year, and she has had to rely on friends and a sympathetic landlord to support her through these periods. Not paying Jane enough to keep her lights on is no way to treat someone who gets up every day to go to work, stays positive, and strives to contribute to those around her.

Mother Has to Tell Her Smart, Ambitious Daughter She Can’t Pay College Tuition

Kizzie is a state-tested nursing assistant in Cleveland, Ohio. She’s a single mother of three, with an oldest daughter who is graduating high school this year. Her daughter has been accepted to the University of Cincinnati, but Kizzie worries about being able to support her decision to go to college; “how am I supposed to tell my daughter that I’m not going to make the tuition payment?” she asked. On top of having to provide for her family’s daily necessities, Kizzie’s landlord raised her rent $300 per month this year, forcing her to make some difficult decisions. “I come to work sometimes broken, but you would never know,” she said. “I don’t show it.”

Mothering a Child with Down Syndrome on a Minimum Wage Income

Anita lives in Pheonix and has a degree in economics. She has four children, two of whom have special needs. She’s regularly forced to choose between working enough hours to put food on the table and accompanying her kids to a long list of doctor’s appointments. Anita had to take her son with down syndrome to 11 doctors appointments in the past week. She receives state assistance and says “you can’t judge people who are working, but still need to get help. I’m not a lazy person, trust me. A raise in the minimum wage is just about fairness, and about giving people a fighting chance to achieve the American Dream.”

For the remainder of the post, click here

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