Aug 19, 2008

Surviving (or not) on Minimum Wage

The increase of the minimum wage is greatly appreciated but, it’s still not enough. This is what many of our round-the-clock, hard-working minimum wage earners are saying. Even those that make a little over the minimum wage are agreeing as well.

Last month, the Federal minimum wage increased 70 cents, from $5.85 to $6.55 an hour. This is one part of a 3 phase series of increases for the minimum wage passed by Congress in 2007, which will eventually reach $7.25 effective July 24, 2009. Nonetheless, almost half the country, 24 states, already has higher minimum wages, ranging from $6.79 in Florida to $8.07 in Washington State, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, this increase does not help even those that are making a little over the minimum wage, whom are also struggling to get a handle on their financial troubles.

Barbara Stepney, a 57-year-old grandmother in Baltimore, makes $7.15 an hour and cannot afford health insurance, her own car, or her own apartment. She barely has enough to buy groceries. Even though, she is close to retiring, she won’t be able to. She is considering a second job so that she can afford clothes and health insurance.

"You can't live anywhere in this country on $13,624 dollars a year," says Jason Perkins-Cohen, executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force in Baltimore, crunching the numbers on what the new minimum wage translates into as an annual salary. "It's not enough to pay for housing, to put food on the table, to keep your house lit and warm."

About 60 percent of minimum-wage workers labor in leisure and hospitality jobs, such as food preparation, and tend to be younger and unmarried, according to the BLS. The numbers just don't add up for millions of Americans making close to minimum wage, say fair-wage advocates, especially in light of increases in gas and food prices.

Perkins-Cohen welcomes the wage increase, saying that every little bit helps low-income workers afford a few more groceries or higher electricity bills, but he stresses that it's just not enough.

The reality is the minimum wage is not keeping up with this economy and inflation. The increase is well received but, in order to live considerably comfortable, the minimum wage needs to be over $9.00 an hour.

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