When I last lived on minimum wage, I shared a one bedroom apartment with a friend I met at work. She had a mattress and a dresser in her room. I had a bunch of blankets and pillows on the floor in the living room (although I eventually got a mattress, too). No television or stereo, just a little boom box. We ate Ramen noodles for the most part. Sometimes, as an added treat, we’d mix in a can of cream of mushroom soup to make it more filling and tasty. A sweet Filipino woman at work would always bring us exotic, delicious meals to take home. She would shake her finger at us and say, “You girls don’t eat good. Too skinny!”
It was hard to come up with money for laundry, so most of the time I washed my clothes in the bathtub and hung them up to dry. But the socks were always difficult, so after hanging them all night I would use a hair dryer to finish the job.
That was 19 years ago.
In that time, minimum wage has increased from $5.15 to $7.25. A huge, whopping increase of $ 2.10. There are a few other things that have also changed since 1997. The average cost of hamburger was $2.80 a pound in 1997; it was $5.43 per pound in 2015. The average cost of a loaf of bread was 87 cents in 1997; it was $2.30 in 2015. The average cost of a dozen Large, Grade A eggs was $1.06 in 1997; it was $2.68 in 2015.
Even if you can afford food, utilities, and fun stuff like toilet paper, the idea of entertainment is pretty much out the window. If you and your family went to a movie in 1997 it would have cost around $4.59 per ticket. Today that same ticket will cost you somewhere around $8.12.
Obviously these numbers don’t reflect everybody’s locale, but it is an overall nationwide average. If you don’t believe the numbers, go to your local grocery store and closely pay attention to what you were paying then versus now.
Right now, I often hear $10.00/hour as the number being suggested as a new minimum wage, and I can tell you this – it isn’t much of a living wage either. It’s enough for you to sustain. You can pay your bills, afford enough food for at least one whole meal a day, put enough gas in the car to get to work and back for the week…and that’s about it.
If our corporations hadn’t been given incentives by the government to ship our jobs overseas, all you naysayers wouldn’t be able to look down upon the ‘unskilled’ and ‘ignorant’ adults working fast food because they would still have their old job! In my opinion, all that shows is tenacity and a willingness to do what it takes to survive. Each working American spends 2,000+ hours of time at work each year. There is no reason people should live in sickening poverty, be forced to live off government assistance because gigantic corporations are coddled like babies.
And for everyone else that still isn’t convinced: You know the only difference between you and everyone else seeking a living wage? You’re lucky enough to have a job that hasn’t been shipped to India or China. Yet.
Jennifer Hauff lives in Keokuk and is a single parent, with an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice, currently working as a temp.