Lately there has been many heated arguments on my FaceBook feed about the drive for higher minimum wage. I hear both sides, I see both sides. I am tired of both sides! How about we look at the wage issue from a whole new perspective? How about it no longer be about money and greed and about people and needs?
So here goes, first off I worked for the last 9 years at the same company. Initially I was hired at $11 per hour. There was a ton of overtime and I was living in an apartment I could barely afford. I ditched my car because the bus was cheaper. I became vegetarian because meat was expensive. So at this wage I cut back to the point there was nothing left to cut back. No cable TV, no car, never went out, I was barely making rent. My apartment was a one bedroom ghetto-fabulous place. I had myself, my boyfriend, who was not working most of the time, my two kids, my big dog, two cats and a rat in this apartment. Ok so ditch the boyfriend and your cost of living goes down, which it did. But I still have so many bodies in that apartment, I had to get rid of some pets. Eventually I went after my ex-husband for child support, that is a whole other issue, and got into a 3 bedroom. I lived there for years, but I got a strange bill from the IRS for $16000. How am I supposed to pay that and still put food on the table? There was no way out of it, seriously I looked into all kinds of tax shelters and tax advice, I was doomed to pay it. So I did. I also took on a second job for the next year or so. I worked 7 days a week for nearly a year. My employer finally asked how much I needed to quit so I was less stressed out.
I finally got a raise to $14.50 an hour. Sweet living the life. I managed to have money to do somethings outside of work and sleep and eat. Life was getting better. The problem is, this wage has been the same since 2007. I went back to grad school and now my student loans are due. My kids moved out the child support ended and I moved into a smaller place. Now with loans due and rent I am barely able to save anything. Add to this a pile of medical bills and a few months of not working, and you have the scariest moments in your life.
My wage was above minimum, but it was based on the minimum wage. If I wanted to make more, I would have to pick up a second job. People will tell you that you need to look for a better job, but the job market is tight, I struggle to get food service jobs. I worked in food service for 5 years, had great skills and was efficient, but I cannot get my foot in the door because now that I have an education I am over qualified. My education is not enough to warrant a career change and I have no experience in other fields. You see the paradox? Go to school to make more money, to pay for school and be stuck in the same financial troubles as before. Yes this is totally working now isn’t it?
See for me it was never about the money, it was about making a difference. Life decided to push me to my limits, and I am still trying to figure out how to survive in a capitalistic society that values things above people. I cannot do it. I would rather live in a commune sharing resources and work for a common goal, then to try to run the race that has been presented to me.
So those decries of unfair wages and living wages, they are not really about money, but about life. Remember that. It is not about wanting to drive the best car or have the newest styles, it is about putting food on the table, roof over my head and being able to afford to get myself to work.
It is about enjoying life, not being caught in a trap. I gave up the American Dream many years ago, but I still hold high the value that life is what you make of it. If you cannot find work that will support your basic needs you are not living life.
So many people are ranting about Welfare, yet they do not understand that pushing for living wages, or affordable housing can help cut the cycle of poverty. If you make more on Welfare then at a minimum wage job, why would you go to work and add the cost of transportation and childcare to your already limited means? Seriously I am happy for those that were never in these situations, but having a bit of empathy goes a long way. I once was like that. Very judgemental and looking down on people with food stamps at the grocery store. Then one day I was dealt a blow that forced me into that cycle of poverty. Once there it was impossible to pull out of, and I have two degrees, so education is not always the answer.
Life is about empathy and compassion. If you lack these qualities, I hope for your sake you never fall to the bottom of the barrel, because your lacking will haunt you 10 fold. Never look at people with disdain, you have no idea how they got where they are. Maybe they had the American Dream and it was ripped out from under them. Starting over is never easy.
I am not promoting changing minimum wage, but rather looking at why it is necessary in the first place. Why do we need the inflation and rising cost of living, if we can somehow stop those things or slow them down, maybe the minimum wage would be enough. Also you have to remember that those that work those jobs are rarely ever given enough hours. Employers cut their hours to avoid paying benefits. It seems that the outrage is pushed upon the wrong group of people. Maybe the outrage should be mirrored on ourselves, for building a society that is not working for all its members. Maybe we should look at our values and our judgements. Maybe we should consider for a moment that not everyone wants you to pay their way, but rather their employer pay their way. Equal pay for equal work, that was the cry during the Women’s rights movement. Maybe it is time for a worker’s rights movement. I do not want things handed to me, but I do want to know that if I go to work I will be treated with dignity and respect and I will be paid enough to get by on. Is that really so much to ask?