It was another night at work as I stood behind the cash register scanning barcodes and chatting with customers. The next customer handed me a single loaf of bread and slid her card hastily, trying to get home in a hurry. As I hit the payment button, the register beeped and gurgled and the word ‘declined’ flashed across the register screen. She sighed with a worried expression on her face, digging into her pockets, hoping to find cash, with no luck. I had seen this woman at her job earlier in the week unpacking boxes and shelving merchandise at a job that pays the federal minimum wage. I dug into the pocket of my khaki pants hoping to find change leftover from lunch and just my luck, I found enough money to cover the cost of the bread.
When I first heard that the federal government is proposing raising the minimum wage by a couple dollars an hour, I did a little happy-dance around my kitchen. I currently earn minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour. A couple hours per week, usually Fridays and Saturdays, you’ll find me at a cash register scanning barcodes, punching in produce codes and bagging groceries. I’d like to say that I’m rolling in cash, but honestly, after gas, insurance and other expenses, I have little left over. It’s sad to think that even if I worked a 50-hour week every week of the year, my salary would still fall under the federal poverty line. If I had to pay rent, buy food, insurance and other necessities, I would be drowning in debt.
I’m sure my situation is like a lot of high school students who work part-time jobs. We like the extra pocket-change, but can fall back on our parents for support when the funds run dry. After my happy dance, I realized that I would still be fine if minimum wage didn’t rise at all. But the sad reality is that some of the hardest working people fall under the federal poverty line because of their low wage.
It is ironic how we live in a country that says hard work guarantees success, while some of the people who work the longest hours struggle to meet their needs. The Senate has proposed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a $2.85 increase from the current minimum wage. Although the cost for basic goods might increase, people that work hard should be able to afford their basic needs.