I truely am not sure what type of calculation the United States government does in order to agree on minimum wage.  They feel that the set wage is enough for a family to eat, have shelter, have clothing?  Where is it that they see this happening? I personally, have lived and visited many, many different parts of this great country.  I have seen the poorest parts of Mississippi and I have seen the richest parts of New York City.  I can not imagine a family of four surviving on less than eight dollars on hour.

Yes, I admit there are plenty of government assistance plans out there. However, they do not take the burden of the parents’ backs who are bringing home eight dollar an hour paychecks.  These plans help, sure, but they do not make things easy.  The hoops you have to jump through, the stigma you carry, the embarrassment and loss of dignity you feel when you sit across the desk from someone you imagine has never been in your shoes, and you say, “I can’t feed my children”, or “The heating company turned off my heat”.  As Barbara Ehrenreich says in her article, “I am ‘baby,’ ‘honey,’ ‘blondie,’ and, most commonly, ‘girl’.”  Then there are the many, many families who do not qualify.  Those who make one hundred dollars a month too much. Those families are turned away and left to fend for themselves. 

In Barbara’s article she has a job paying her $7 an hour. With this pay she finds herself an apartment for $500 a month.  This is so incredibly unrealistic in my opinion.  Living here in Berkshire County, you would most likely get a job at about $8 an hour.  If you are single with no children, sure, you could find a one bedroom apartment for $500 a month or less. However, if you are a single mother with at least one child, according to the law, you must have at least a two bedroom apartment.  In this area you are looking at paying more around $600 or $700 a month. Most daycares charge around $200 a week for a full time slot.  Then of course there are your regular utilities, your vehicle if you have one, bus passes if you don’t, groceries, clothing… it goes on and on. 

I understand as Americans we are lucky to have the programs in place that we have.  I am even one who is lucky enough to be on a couple of them.  However, I am one who has to do the hoop jumping and the dignity loosing.  It is possible to live on minimum wage. But not with dependants, not without government assistance. Like Ehrenreich states at the end, “The thinking behind welfare reform was that even the humblest jobs are morally uplifting and psycologically buoying.  In reality they are likely to be fraught with insult and stress.” 

Unless you are one of the lucky few to break the cycle and get out of poverty levels, you will continue to face the burdens and struggles along with the indignities and insults.

One thought on “Nickel-and-Dimed

  1. It’s true when you do the math it doesn’t work out. i like your post and the personal experience that you attached to it. It’s hard to have to face the reality of having to ask for help. It is embarrassing for people when they have to admit that they are not able to afford their needs. It is hard for us to admit it when we need help. We feel like our pride is attached to our positions and our pay checks. We as a society feel that people with minimum wage jobs have less prestige. /it is unfortunate to label individuals based on what they make.

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