By Melissa Josephs
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Minimum-wage jobs are mainly held by women struggling to support families on way too little. Let's guarantee these hard-working breadwinners a living wage. The first in a series of articles by Women Employed on the challenges facing low-wage workers.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Have you ever thought about what it would be like to raise your family on minimum wage?
The short answer is it would be hard and probably impossible without some form of public assistance despite your long, tiring hours.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, or less than $14,000 a year for a full-time worker, which falls below the federal poverty line for a family of two or more. This breaks down to about $270 a week, before taxes, to pay for all of the bills and expenses a family faces.
These are important numbers to keep in mind because many Americans may link minimum wage to jobs performed by teenagers for extra spending money. But that's far from the reality.
Few minimum-wage workers are in their teens. Eighty percent are 20 years or older, and most minimum-wage earners contribute more than half (54 percent) of his or her family's weekly income.
Minimum-wage earners are breadwinners--disproportionately female--who are supporting spouses, children, parents and other relatives. While women make up just under half of the national work force, we are roughly 60 percent of minimum-wage workers.
With the worst recession in a generation gripping our nation, more families than ever are relying on minimum-wage jobs in industries such as retail, home health care and food preparation and service. Oftentimes, these are the only jobs available to people trying desperately to keep their families afloat.
In Illinois, where Women Employed is located, our minimum wage is a dollar more than the federal standard, but working full time, that still translates to $15,840 a year.
That's not enough.
A single parent in Illinois with a pre-schooler and a school-age child would need approximately $50,000 a year to cover the basics of housing, food, health care, transportation and child care without government support.
That would be a real living wage and it would be more than three times what a minimum wage worker would earn.
Rachel Readus can attest to how hard it is to survive on the minimum wage in Illinois. When she was still in high school, her mother passed away and she had to support herself. Even as a single woman without children, living on minimum wage was a struggle.
"I was working in retail jobs for minimum wage and I had to pay my own bills -- rent, utilities, food, the whole nine yards. I was working until 1 or 2 in the morning, and then I'd have to be back at work at 8 a.m. the next day, but I still wasn't earning enough to get by," she told me. "Most of the time, I couldn't afford to pay my rent. I would live in an apartment for three or four months until I couldn't afford the rent anymore, and then I'd move from place to place, sleeping at friends' houses. I just could never earn enough to get by."
We can do better for people like Rachel, and we have done better in the past.
By Amy Lieberman
By Samantha Kimmey
By Sherry Leiwant
By Grecia Lima