59% by C.W.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Avoid fast foods if you can, by preparing meals with cheaper ingredients that can last you longer as leftovers.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”

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Profit vs People by B.K.

“Work sucks, you’re always tired but you can’t afford to take time off. One or two shifts is the difference between making rent or not”. Nick is a sous chef at the restaurant I work at  who lived off minimum wage for 6 years. He grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Seattle and right after high school was thrust into the workforce full time. He attended one year of culinary school, but had to drop out in order to support himself. Nick’s story is one many around the country share, as according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 42.3% of all employed workers in the US work for less than $15 and hour, with 3 million of those working at the federal minimum wage of $7.25. These people struggle to make ends meet, with many working paycheck to paycheck and even that isn’t nearly enough. Even then, 5% of the US workforce is working more than one job to support themselves.

A yearly salary on minimum wage is around 15,000 dollars if you work 40 hours a week for all 52 weeks of the year. Most people working at minimum wage work closer to 60 hours a week so we can bump that up to 22,620 a year(not including taxes as the federal income tax varies based on a bunch of external factors). This is assuming you work every shift, never get sick, and never get fired (easier said than done).  Now that may seem like a half decent amount, but let’s factor in expenses. The cheapest rent for a one room apartment is about  $400 a month or $4,800 a year in Kansas. There are probably cheaper places to live but this was the lowest I could find. So after rent you are left with $17,820, and then comes food. The cheapest way to eat is obviously fast food with costs around $5 a meal. A yearly diet of three fast food meals a day would cost roughly $5,460 leaving you with only $12,360. That is your money left after the necessities are taken away( subtract a couple hundred more for hygienic goods). However you are not done yet, there is still the cost of gas which could be high depending on your commute, and then you might break a bone or need dental work done which will easily run you a couple thousand dollars. Then you might want to have a kid or get married which would raise your rent and food costs as well as additional expenses for your child.

However, what happens if we raise the minimum wage? Many fear that a hike in the minimum wage will cost many younger, less experienced people their jobs. That very well maybe true, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fifty percent of all workers working at the minimum wage are above the age of 25. These are the people like Nick, who struggle to make ends meet, but don’t have the means to receive and education, or take an internship to earn a higher paying job. The consequences of raising the minimum wage to help people like Nick are highly disputed. It may cost younger workers their job, and make it harder for unskilled workers to find work. On the other side it make also reduce turnover rates as people have a more suitable income. One possible benefit is an increase in productivity. Most companies and businesses will have to reduce their workforce if they want to maintain their profit margins, and weeding out sub par workers will      have to come with that. That leaves only the upper percentile of workers who work hard for their money and don’t slack off.

Whether its raised or not people like Nick will continue to work day in and day out to support themselves and their family, because they must in order to survive. That is the American way and whether or not America chooses to help these people is a decision we must ultimately come to.