Feedback
In Plain Sight

Readers' stories: Life on $7.25 per hour

We got a robust response to our story last week about trying to get by on minimum wage -- currently $7.25 per hour.

One divorced dad who asked us not to use his name described a grueling work life that yields a healthy income, but at a high personal cost:

I have a four year B.S. degree in Human Services and work three full-time jobs. Two of them are for minimal wage on overnight sleep positions. These jobs are just as hard as my day job. I am away from my home and sleep on a couch. I get up two to three times a night to check blood sugar levels. I am exhausted after my $7.25 hr sleep job. I have four young children. They need a dad around. That is why I work a day job when they are in school and then go back to work when they go to bed. But it takes 3 jobs to make ends meet because of $7.25 hr. I am 43 and have over 20 years experience and make $7.25 a hr. Not everyone making mimimal wage is a teenager living with their parents with little or no education or experience. ... If minimal wage goes up it would help me around $300 a month total. Would i take it? Of course. Will it happen? I wish........

Tammy Pascoe from Branson, Mo., a big tourist town, told us it can be difficult to find steady, full-time work, even at low wages:

The majority of people in Branson work 2+ jobs in the height of the summer tourism season. The jobs pay minimum wage to $8 to start. Sounds logical. The problem [is], most of the jobs are from corporations where headquarters are on either coast. The corporations do not allow the employees much more than 15-20 hours per week. ... They even have the audacity to hire you "on call"-- ... 'put aside 6 hrs for us so you can call us and we can say sorry we don't need you today.' They even schedule people for 2 hrs a week. ... Maybe this is what's wrong with the work ethic in America! Why try when I get no credit for being loyal or responsible?

"C. Butler" makes a bit more than minimum wage, but says it doesn't go far enough to pay the bills:

My current wage IS $ 9.00 per hour, only 1/2 of the wage I made ten years ago. I work 40 hours per week but am struggling and seem to get farther behind each month. At $ 9.00 per hour, a single person takes home $ 1100.00 per month; take away $ 450.00 rent, $ 400.00 monthly car payment and insurance and that leaves just enough to starve on. With gas at $ 4.00 per gallon, the rest of my income goes toward just getting back and forth to work. ... If I get sick, I lose $ 50.00 per day and might not be able to make my rent. I am one step away from homelessness and it is frightening. Sure, I could use more money, but the spending power of the money I do have is the real issue.

A number of commenters said the minimum wage was never designed to be a living wage; it is supposed to be a "starting out" wage for young people and part-timers. But "Concerned Allentonian" pointed out that in a tough economy, minimum wage jobs are not just for unskilled workers and teenagers:

There are only so many jobs available for people with either the education or the skills that would usually mean a higher paying job. I applied for a position as an executive assistant (a job that requires a degree and a high level of skill) and there were over 500 applicants for the same job!!! What are the people who are looking for work and competing with hundreds of people for the same job supposed to do when it comes time to pay the mortgage and put food of the table for their families? Sometimes you end up doing what you have to do and that includes taking a lower paying job.

We also heard from several readers who worry about the domino effect of raising the minimum wage, including Oldboy32, who used to own a small business:

When I first bought it, I was paying around $6 an hour. No one that worked for me over 6 months made that wage. They always made more. Then minimum wage was raised to $7.25. It might not seem like a lot, but my costs increased over 10%. I paid more for my employees, more for my other costs. Unfortunately, ... I couldn't charge more for the products I sold (I did but sales dropped). I made and sold healthy foods. The raise in minimum wage made it unprofitable for me to stay in business. I moved on, but the kids that no longer worked for me lost out. I used to hire 10-20 kids a year, now I don't. I used to provide the community with very affordable "healthy" food ... the community lost out. [Now] I work in software development. I make more and worry less.

And then there was this from Lorraine Fuentes in Florida, who reminded us that for a lot of people trying to make ends meet, minimum wage looks pretty good right now: 

Ha, minimum wage would be good at this point! I recently lost my job due to my position being eliminated after 8 years... I was a Production Manager earning $70,000/yr. Unemployment max is $275/wk...how does one live on that? That is LESS than minimum!