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.
Acting Secretary Harris has traveled to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Tampa, Boston, Orlando, Cleveland and Philadelphia. Here are a few of the stories people were brave enough to share with Acting Secretary Harris.
Dad Sells His Blood for Money to Feed His Family
At the Ebenezer Church of God in Christ in Las Vegas, Nevada, Stacey Brundson, a father of two, said he has donated blood to bring in extra cash just to help his family afford the basics. “Sometimes there’s not enough in my paycheck to make it through the month,” said Brundson. Thankfully, Stacey has family in the area; otherwise, he would have no childcare options when he has to work.
Dishwasher Chooses Between the Car Payment for Transportation to his Minimum Wage Job, Or Phone Service to Get a Better Paying Job.
Corey, a dishwasher in the hospitality industry in Cincinnati, chose to make his car payment this month. As a result, he couldn’t afford to pay his phone bill before service was discontinued. The day before Acting Secretary Harris met with him, Corey missed a call about a new job opportunity because his phone service had been suspended.
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.”
Feeding Mom and Grandma on Minimum Wage is a Struggle.
Shedaya Ivy works at McDonald’s at minimum wage and is attending community college. She lives at home with her grandmother and aunt. For her, a higher minimum wage would mean she “can make sure her grandmother and aunt are ok” and ensure they “have food in the house.” “As long as my family is ok,” she says “I’m ok.”
Worked at the Same Place Since Age 11 and Can’t Afford Medicine
Kineta lives in Las Vegas. Her job at a national retail chain pays near the state minimum wage, has been working since she was 11. “Working is in my blood,” she told me. “But every year I feel like I make less.” When Kineta can’t afford her blood pressure medication, she either goes without or borrows similar medication from friends – whether or not the dosage is right.
Missing Bills to Provide for a 5-year-old on $16,000/year
Heather Quick earns minimum wage in Cincinnati, Ohio and is trying to provide for her 5-year-old son. “A lot of times things go unpaid because you have to eat, have to make sure you get to work and get your kid to school.” Quick works part time at a local store but says the business has made recent cutbacks which have cut into her hours even more. Quick says she doesn’t want the wage increase to help her get ahead. She just wants to stay afloat. “I would have more money to do things that are a necessity. Not things that I want, but things that I need and that my son needs.”
Working While Living in a Youth Homeless Shelter
Colby, age 22, lives in Las Vegas. He works part time and relies on a community agency for shelter. “This shirt I’m wearing?” he began. “I’ve had it since I was 18, and these shoes since I was 17. The only thing I know I have to have is food.”
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.”
Acting Secretary Harris is actively supporting the President’s proposal to raise the minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour by 2015. It would boost the earnings of those who shared their stories, along with approximately 15 million workers nationwide, and put additional money in their pockets for necessities like food, clothing and shelter.
Harris reflected on the people he met: “I’ve met workers of every age, race, ethnicity and background. In superficial ways, they could have not been more different. But what unites all of them is this: the desire to work hard and the opportunity to make life better for themselves and their families. Too many of them are stuck at a wage that forces them to depend on the generosity of community organizations, family, friends or government just to stay above water. I haven’t met anyone who is looking for a handout. To the contrary, they just want a fair wage so they don’t have to rely on others.”
The individuals above are sharing the burden of putting their stories out to the public to raise awareness about how bad things have gotten, how impossible it is to live on minimum wage. While $9.00 an hour will not create the change Harris sees we need, we live in hope. If these brave individuals could come forward with their stories, every person who reads their stories and respects them should honor their courage by joining them in the faithful struggle to improve wages. Go to Let Justice Roll to find out how you can get involved in the struggle for a living wage. As Dr. King said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”