The Bare Minimum

Posted by tbaker |

TFW RachelPortrait.jpgBy Rachel Birdsell

Did you know if you’re the breadwinner in a two-person family and you’re working full time and making minimum wage, you’re already earning $50 less than the national poverty level for a 2-person household? If there are three of you in the family, you’re making $4,100 less than the national poverty level. In 1983, you could work for minimum wage and you’d be above poverty level for a two person household, and you’d only be $1,252 under it for a three person household.

If the federal minimum wage had kept up with inflation since then, the rate would be $10.74 an hour instead of the whopping $7.25 we have now. That would be an extra $558 dollars a month if you worked 40 hours a week. There’s a lot of struggling that could be alleviated with that much extra money in a month. Instead, we have people who have to work for around 15 minutes to buy a loaf of bread, 30 minutes for a gallon of milk, 45 for a pound of cheap coffee, and an hour for a couple of pounds of ground beef. At $7.25, people have to work an entire eight hour day to fill up the gas tank in an average, mid-sized car. Heaven help them if they need to go to the doctor and get a prescription filled, because those things are luxuries to minimum wage earners.

Earlier this year, Democrats tried pushing through a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10, but every single Republican in the House voted against it as did a handful of Democrats. Republicans as a whole are violently opposed to raising the minimum wage. There are some that I’m afraid must have suffered severe head injuries because they want to completely eliminate the minimum wage. Yes, because if people can’t afford to live on minimum wage now, it only makes sense to change the laws so they aren’t required to even be paid what they can’t afford to live on. Brilliant plan! You know, if these legislators had to live on minimum wage, they’d have a bill to raise it passed so fast it would set the paper it was written on, on fire.

While the minimum wage has remained relatively stagnant over the past 30 years, there are some people who have received a substantial raise. The beloved CEOs of corporate America are now taking home about 380 times the wages of average workers. That’s average workers, not just minimum wage workers. When was it we decided that CEOs were worth so much more than the people who are doing the majority of the work for them? When did we decide it was okay for Congress to continually crap on the people they’re supposed to be working for? When did we decide that our lowest paid workers aren’t worth more than two gallons of milk an hour? More importantly, what are we going to do to change it, and when are we going to make that happen?

Rachel Birdsell is a freelance writer and artist. You can drop her a line at


Anna August 1, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Now for the argument against raising the minimum wage limit.
Aside from the fact that we would all, including the poor, be paying more for goods…
Most businesses that start employees at the minimum wage are for food service, retail, unskilled labor and entry level positions.
Everyone has to start somewhere and most of us, unless we were lucky enough to know someone, began our working careers in one of these positions making our own spending money, learning how to be a valued employee and learning the value of a good work ethic. If you learned these lessons you were soon getting promotions and raises. I don’t think there are many places that would keep a hard working, dependable employee on minimum wage for long for fear of losing them. The experience gained will get that worker better and better opportunities as time goes on. Earning minimum wage should be a temporary condition; if you never in your life earn more than minimum wage you’ve got bigger problems than just a small pay check!
By raising the minimum wage the entry level position could potentially be eliminated.
Employers will seek more experienced workers leaving young inexperienced people or anyone just entering the work force out in the cold.
Instead of fighting so hard to raise the minimum wage why not work more on preparing our kids for the future. We push the idea of a college education on all kids but some of those kids are not college material and many of the ones that are college material are going though the motions without a plan and ending up with a diploma that takes them nowhere and a ton of debt to boot!
We need to start early helping kids focus on being independent, learning how to earn, save and give. In school, counseling and directing them in the appropriate direction and as parents encouraging them to pursue a career they can live and grow with, not just a diploma for a diploma’s sake.
When I was in high school there were two campuses in Fayetteville, East and West. West Campus was for those kids who were not college bound, who wanted to learn a trade and go right to work after high school with a skill that could help them bring in a good wage. They took the core academic classes and then spent the bulk of their day learning a trade, mechanics, printing, electronics, etc. I know several of those former FHSWC students who are still in the trade that they learned in high school and have done quite well for themselves. I’m not sure when West Campus was closed but they did a great disservice to Fayetteville students by doing so. As some point there was a stigma attached to the idea of trade school and that idea needs to change.
Let’s not worry so much about procuring a higher minimum wage and work more at preparing people to make more…much more!

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Deb August 4, 2013 at 11:18 am

No one wants to hire someone straight out off the streets or even straight out of college. There are 2 problems, 1 to add to your argument and 1 to add to the argument of the article. All “entry-level” skill jobs require 1 year experience outside of schooling, at the least. How is it that we can get a skilled job if you will never, ever qualify for the starting level job. You resort to minimum wage jobs, because no one else will hire you. Not only are you still making minimum wage, but no one wants to hire people full time. In all the minimum wage jobs I have had, only 2 to 3 out of at least 12 people working at any given company get a full time position. Most people work at least 6 days a week with multiple jobs just to get by. Each job only has you schedule from 16 to 20 hours on average, sometimes less. If you are luck every few months more than 20 hours. Working minimum wage, it is difficult to own a car to get from one job to the next. Thus forcing more people to live off the government. And not all places have public transportation to help them.

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Deb August 4, 2013 at 11:23 am

So how does you argument work with the we shouldn’t bring up minimum wage cause then there would be no starting level? To be honest that doesn’t even make sense. There will always be starting level work.
We have gone from $3.10 with better pay vs. cost of living ratio to $7.25 and worse pay vs. cost of living ratio and yet your point happened in the opposite scenario. Explain that for me. Cause, that isn’t making any sense to me.

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Anna August 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

There will be no starting level because they would not hire “starter employees”! They would pass by anyone with no skills or experience.
My main point is that when people are prepared for the career they choose they should be able to enter the job market with starting pay higher than minimum wage.

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Anna August 2, 2013 at 7:45 am

True, 50.5 percent are young adults 25 or older dropping to 9.1 percent by age 30 and and 49.5 percent are under 25. Most are in food service or in the leasure/hospitality industries.
So, there are your under prepared youth. Those who have no skills and those who go from college to waitress because they didn’t have a plan.

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Larry woodall August 2, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Anna must be a certified psychic. Anna just knows that none of the minimum wage workers had a plan. I know two adult workers in fast food who are doing it as a second job because their families have disabled kids at home and they must have the income.

A three dollar an hour raise in minimum wage will raise all boats.

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Anna August 7, 2013 at 12:57 pm

There are always exceptions Larry, but I bet with disabled kids they are also getting assistance.
A Three dollar an hour minimum wage raise might raise a few boats but it would sink the mother ship. If you raise the wage to what many workers are currently earning for doing the same job for two years it would be totally unfair! So what do you do… give them a raise too I suppose.
Like I said, everyone would be paying more for goods, it would nullify any raise in pay!

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Kevin August 14, 2013 at 5:35 pm

“By raising the minimum wage the entry level position could potentially be eliminated.”

This is idiotic fear mongering. By raising the minimum wage we might also see an unforeseen total economic collapse or even worse…but it certainly is unlikely. Basically Anna is arguing that, she doesn’t really understand anything about economics, but if we raise the minimum wage something bad and unforeseen might happen, so we should not do it.

Also, there is a HUGE difference in pay grade between what the poster is referring to as “entry level” and those living on minimum wage. Clearly Anna has no idea how difficult life can be for those of us who were not raised with the opportunity to springboard off of our parents accomplishments. I was very lucky. But that doesn’t mean I am going to turn a blind eye to the ridiculously stagnant minimum wage.

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