“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.