Madison County Democratic Women fully support the grassroots community effort of Raise the Wage – Huntsville to incrementally bring minimum wage to $10.10 and index it to inflation.
The facts run contrary to popular perceptions. Women hold many minimum wage jobs and many are single parents. Few have a career path and fewer have benefits or paid leave. Pay equity is still not a reality- women still make 79 cents to a man’s dollar. The current minimum wage of $7.25 buys less than the minimum wage of 25 cents did in 1950. And it buys a full one third less than the minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968. A full 80% of those living under the poverty line are single mothers. Most of those are women working at low wage jobs. There are many articles that outline the facts and the economic benefits of a living wage based on high quality studies of cities who have increased the minimum wage; however, I want to look at the human side.
I am a mom. My kids drink milk. The two gallons of milk that I bought this morning are a full hour’s work at minimum wage. A monthly income of $1,160 doesn’t pay for much, especially when the average monthly cost of a two bedroom apartment is $750. A mom making minimum wage- and working a full 40-hour week has less than $410 a month to cover expenses after housing. A reliable car costs money to buy and to maintain. Heat is a necessity. There is no room for error – ever. There is no room for saving or planning. That is why so many people making minimum wage are also consumers of benefits programs and rely on charities to meet basic needs food, shelter, and clothing. It is hard to work fulltime and still face the stigma of not being able to meet basic needs and the numbers given above only work when a full work week is achieved. If a child is sick, or a car breaks down, there is no paid leave- there is economic catastrophe.
Raising the wage to $10.10 does not solve the problems of poverty and it will only partially ease the financial stress that so many residents face. However, it WILL ease some of that stress. It will ease dependence on government programs and our non-profit charitable organizations. It will allow many workers to secure their own health insurance in the absence of Medicaid expansion in Alabama.
Shouldn’t quality of life apply to all of our citizens?
So often, those at the bottom are told to pull themselves up and work harder. I know mothers who are working two or three jobs just trying to put food on the table. They then face constant scorn for not being around to help with homework or to support their children’s activities. There is a reason that there is a 40-hour work week- it is humane.
I have had conversations about this issue with many. One common response is: “I don’t mind an increased wage. But I just want my fast food order to be right.” Perhaps there is a better chance of that order being right if the employee is not worried about how to pay for a gallon of gas to get home. Maybe that employee can take greater pride in their work because they are being compensated with a living wage and not simultaneously relying on government programs. Another response is: “I believe in capitalism and market forces.” I do too; however, I believe that part of the role of government is to curb the excesses of capitalism, and that creating a living wage is a valid and valued role of government. People who work 40 hours a week should not have to be dependent on government assistance.
Much attention is paid in Huntsville to quality of life and, for many, Huntsville offers an excellent quality of life. We promote our quality of life that to companies considering relocating here because we know that quality of life builds the economy of Huntsville. There are 34,000 Huntsvillians making under $10.10. Shouldn’t quality of life apply to all of our citizens?