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

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