After fumbling with her keys for a couple minutes, Anne Burres, age 49, opened the rotting door to her sparsely furnished room, with one solid bed in the corner and a tiny kitchen in the other. The carpet, a stained canvas of previous owners who had neglected its care. The drywall, that once was a beautiful design of symbols that had slowly faded or cracked under heavy use. To our left, the clear sounds of a man yelling drowned out the sounds of a child crying. In Boulder, this is a lifestyle nearly unheard of, but for Anne, along with 59% of the rest of American people, this is the daily toil that they must fight through known as the American Dream.
I want you to take your hands, put them in front of your face, maybe waggle your fingers to get the blood pumping. Take the first 3 of those fingers on each hand and imagine glueing them together. That’s the percentage of Americans currently working minimum wage jobs. Try to waggle your fingers again, without breaking apart this seal. Not only does it become very hard for this mass of fingers to move, but their movements clumsily attempt the movements of the fingers that are freely unhindered. That’s the society we live in today, a place where the few have advantages to extents they might not even fathom.
So what exactly does living off of minimum wage mean? Well, in Colorado’s case, it means 8.31$ an hour, however this statistic changes across states. The average national minimum wage salary in America is $7.25 an hour (Which is around $14,500 a year.) With the inclusion of taxes that comes around to $10,000 a year. For people like Anne and many others, this is what they must scrape by with annually.
“I try to save up you know? I’ve gotten to go on a couple vacations, but they have to be really cheap, and the last time I went was back in 2009. It was a trip to Venezuela, but I haven’t been able to make it since I’ve been trying to help out my sister financially.” Anne explains to me as we talk and work at the same time.
The average Nuclear Family (Husband, Wife, Daughter, Son) cannot survive on minimum wage and even with a small hike in the minimum wage they do not have enough to survive. Many people like Anne do not have families for this purpose, choosing instead to live by themselves or with one partner but without children.
“We considered it for a time, but I always felt it was a bad idea and so did Shaun. After we split apart I never really wanted to try and fill the gap with someone else or kids, so I’m just living on my own now.” She said.
Here’s another fun problem to work your head around. You’re given 1,150 dollars for your month to survive. The average renting per month in Boulder alone is 1487$ for a one bedroom apartment. So you no longer live in Boulder, let’s try Louisville, Kentucky, which is only $730. Well that’s not so bad, except you have other survival needs aside from housing.
Electrical Bills: $73+ a Month
Health Insurance: $44 a month
Water: $20 a Month
Public Transportation: $63 a Month
Add that all together and you get 907$ per month, leaving you something akin to 250$ for the rest of your month. To top that off, you have to pay for food, possibly even more heating in certain times of year, a child or two to feed, clothe, and take care of, student loans, credit card debts, and countless other minor expenses that we encounter in our day to day lives.
So what can you do to offset these costs, and perhaps save up a little more money? Over the past couple of weeks I searched for the answer to this question, and I found some interesting tidbits as I lived off of minimum wage. Here’s what I learned:
- You gotta drink water, not only is it a cheap resource but it’s an incredible help in powering you through the day by keeping your belly full. It also reduces the temptation of buying drinks of any form.
- Avoid fast foods if you can, by preparing meals with cheaper ingredients that can last you longer as leftovers.
- Stay clean. This might not seem like one of the more list-worthy notes but by keeping sanitary you significantly reduce the chances of catching viruses or unwanted bacteria. Just by doing this you can save lots of money that you might otherwise find being used for a hospital bill.
- Boredom can quickly become one of your worst enemies. And when living on low income sources going out to see a movie just really isn’t viable. So instead, visit free events, check out books from the library, and going on runs really helps alleviate some of the stir craziness that you may end up feeling.
In situations like this, it can be extremely hard for people to try and also attend school. For me, it was arguably the hardest part of this entire experiment was trying to get into school every day with my assignments completed, whilst also making enough money to provide for myself.
Living below the poverty line can be an incredibly hard time in many people’s lives. In many places across the world there is a correlation between poverty and crime. People are simply forced to make the choice between turning to criminal activities, or searching for limited jobs when there are even jobs available.
Burres stares outside at the purple pink sunrise across the mountains as she cooks a mixture of rice and beans in a large crock pot.“There are days where I don’t want to get up. I just sit in bed and I ask myself if it’s really worth it. I don’t have any dreams of changing the world, I just live. I have to remind myself each morning, and then I can start the day,” She says.
“You never know what’ll happen tomorrow, so pack your bagged lunch today.”