While it certainly seems that far-right extremists are waging an all-out war on working families and their rights, workers aren’t just defending themselves; they are fighting to expand their rights and achieving some significant gains. Here are 12 recent victories we should celebrate while continuing to push for even more wins.
1. AFSCME Sets Organizing Goal, Almost Doubles It: AFSCME President Lee Saunders announced that the union has organized more than 90,000 workers this year, nearly doubling its 2014 goal of 50,000.
2. Tennessee Auto Workers to Create New Local Union at VW Plant: Auto workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that will give workers an increased voice in the operation of the German carmaker’s U.S. facility. UAW organizers continue to gain momentum, as the union has the support of nearly half of the plant’s 1,500 workers, which would make the union the facility’s exclusive collective bargaining agent.
3. California Casino Workers Organize: Workers at the new Graton Resort & Casino voted to join UNITE HERE Local 2850 of Oakland, providing job security for 600 gambling, maintenance, and food and beverage workers.
4. Virgin America Flight Attendants Vote to Join TWU: Flight attendants at Virgin America voted to join the Transport Workers, citing the success of TWU in bargaining fair contracts for Southwest Airlines flight attendants.
5. Maryland Cab Drivers Join National Taxi Workers Alliance: Cab drivers in Montgomery County, Md., announced their affiliation with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, citing low wages and unethical behavior by employers among their reasons to affiliate with the national union.
6. Retail and Restaurant Workers Win Big, Organize Small: Small groups of workers made big strides as over a dozen employees at a Subway restaurant in Bloomsbury, N.J., voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, cosmetics and fragrance workers at a Macy’s store in Massachusetts won an NLRB ruling that will allow them to vote on forming a union.
7. Minnesota Home Care Workers Take Key Step to Organize: Home health care workers in Minnesota presented a petition to state officials that would allow a vote on forming a union for more than 26,000 eligible workers.
8. New York Television Writers-Producers Join Writers Guild: Writers and producers from Original Media, a New York City-based production company, voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, citing low wages, long work schedules and no health care.
9. Fast-Food Workers Win in New NLRB Ruling: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with its franchisees for labor violations and wage disputes. The NLRB ruling makes it easier for workers to organize individual McDonald’s locations, and could result in better pay and conditions for workers.
10. Workers Increasingly Have Access to Paid Sick Leave: Cities such as San Diego and Eugene, Ore., have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, providing workers with needed flexibility and making workplaces safer for all.
11. Student-Athletes See Success, Improved Conditions: College athletic programs are strengtheningfinancial security measures for student-athletes in the wake of organizing efforts by Northwestern University football players. In addition, the future is bright as the majority of incoming college football players support forming a union.
12. San Diego Approves Minimum Wage Hike; Portland, Maine, Starts Process: Even as Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage, municipalities across the country have taken action. San Diego will raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, and the Portland, Maine, Minimum Wage Advisory Committee will consider an increase that would take effect in 2015.
Tags: aflcio, afscme, athletes, California, chattanooga, fast food, Jobs, Lee Saunders, Maine, maryland, minimum wage, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, NLRB, Oregon, organizing, Paid Sick Days, Portland, Rights At Work, San Diego, Tennessee, TWU, uaw
This piece originally appeared on MinnPost.com
With millions of working families struggling just to keep their heads above water, income inequality is a hot topic of debate nationwide. From fast-food and retail workers to economic experts to Wall Street, Americans are increasingly worried that too many of us are being left behind – and that an economic recovery built on such a shaky foundation isn’t much of a recovery at all.
In the past year alone, we’ve seen an unprecedented wave of strikes by low-wage workers demanding living wages and a voice on the job. Meanwhile, economists and policymakers are sounding the alarm that unless we make changes – and fast – our economy could yet again be brought to the brink. From coast to coast, there’s growing consensus that income inequality is the defining challenge of our time.
The good news? If anyone is up to that challenge, it’s Minnesotans. We’ve already made major progress. This spring, our state Legislature passed a bill to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50/hour by 2016 – a victory for working families, their communities, and the businesses where they shop. The measure goes into effect today.
We can’t let down our guard
We have every reason to celebrate this step toward a brighter economic future for our state. Raising the minimum wage will help workers afford the basics like food, rent, and clothing for their kids, and relieve some of the burden that falls on taxpayers when big corporations don’t pay their employees enough to make ends meet.
But we can’t let down our guard just yet. Before our new minimum wage law even went into effect, it was already under attack from big restaurant chains that want to roll back the progress we’ve made by excluding tipped workers from the minimum wage increase. And the threat to Minnesota working families is real: Just last month, the restaurant industry succeeded in amending a minimum wage bill passed in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, so that tipped workers will receive a much lower minimum wage.
The truth of the matter is that tipped workers like waiters and waitresses deserve and need a wage floor just as much as workers in other industries. Contrary to the misperception that servers are already extremely well-paid, the median wage for servers in our state is $9.36/hour – including tips, which is below the new minimum wage. And recent census data indicates that servers are much more likely to live in poverty than other workers.
Skill-level aside, the principle couldn’t be simpler: Everyone who works hard should be able to provide the basics for their family, without relying on government assistance to pay the rent and keep food on the table. Minnesota has a chance to show the rest of the country that we all benefit when tipped workers are fairly compensated for their hard work – and that it’s time to take action at the federal level to increase the tipped minimum wage.
No evidence to support negaive-impact fears
There’s no evidence that raising the wage floor for tipped workers will have a negative impact on other workers, consumers, or businesses. In nearby states where waiters and waitresses are subjected to a tip penalty, cooks and kitchen staff actually make less than they do in Minnesota where no such penalty currently exists.
As for employers, because the minimum wage increase affects all restaurants, they will all face the same cost increase, which will then likely be passed to consumers. According to research from previous minimum wage increases, we can expect restaurant prices to rise by less than 1 percent. Meanwhile, the benefits of raising pay for tipped workers will set the stage for a stronger economy across-the-board. Job growth in the food-service industry, specifically restaurants and bars, is outpacing almost every other sector of the economy. If we don’t act now to make these good jobs, millions of would-be consumers won’t have enough in their pockets to cover basic needs, let alone create enough demand to sustain a strong economy.
I have no doubt that Minnesotans will see right through this latest attempt to chip away at progress for working families and for our state. We’re tired of the same old excuses from big corporations trying to pad profits while the rest of us pick up the slack. We’ve made our decision about the need to raise the floor for workers across industries so that everyone who puts in a fair day’s work gets a fair day’s pay, and we’re ready to move forward – not backward.
There’s simply no excuse for shortchanging tipped workers and undermining our economy in the process. We have a chance to do things differently, starting here in Minnesota and ending in Washington, D.C.
Brianna Halverson is the Minnesota state director of Working America
Tags: Jobs, minimum wage, Minnesota, tipped workers
Remember Obamacare? Also known as the Affordable Care Act? With news of conflict and tragedy dominating the airwaves, recent news about the sweeping new health care law has been getting swept under the rug.
That’s too bad, because here’s the basic headline: the Affordable Care Act is working, and consumers have a lot to look forward to when the next open enrollment period starts in November.
Here’s the rundown:
1.) More insurance companies are joining the exchanges. The health exchanges set up under the ACA work best when more insurance companies participate. More companies means more competition for your business, which ultimately means lower prices for consumers.
For instance, last year in New Hampshire there was only one company on the state exchange–not a recipe for healthy competition. Even so, signups exceeded expectations, and other companies are diving in to swoop up consumer dollars. For 2015 open enrollment (which begins on November 15, 2014), there will be not one more but four more companies on the New Hampshire exchange.
That’s happening across the country. In Michigan, there will be 18 companies for 2015 open enrollment versus 13 in 2014. In Indiana, consumers will have double the options to choose from. Major carriers like United, Aetna, and Cigna are wading into California’s exchange, which they previously sat out. Again, more competition means more options and lower prices for consumers.
2.) The ACA is massively cutting the rate of uninsured. Between the creation of state exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid in half the country, and the end of disgusting insurance practices (like denying insurance to those with pre-existing conditions), the Affordable Care Act is succeeding at its main goal: reducing the number of uninsured Americans.
Look at where we stand. The rate of uninsured in New Jersey is down 38 percent. In Minnesota, it’s down a whopping 40 percent. And in Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell advocated full repeal of the ACA, the rate of uninsured has been cut in half.
What of predictions that all those consumers signing up wouldn’t pay their premiums? Charles Gaba, who runs ACASignups.net, has crunched the statewide data and estimates 90 percent of those who signed up on the exchanges have paid the first premiums.
3.) A majority of Americans want to keep the ACA. The Koch Brothers, the Republican Party, and the health insurance lobby itself have all spent massive amounts of money on a barrage of misinformation to convince the country that Obamacare is a government takeover, a socialist conspiracy, a massive waste of money, or the “worst thing since slavery,” depending on who you ask.
But as more and more people gain the peace of mind that health coverage brings, the misinformation loses its effectiveness.
A Bloomberg poll released on June 11 shows that 56 percent of Americansthink Obamacare “may need small modifications, but we should see how it works,” vs. 32 percent for repeal and 10 percent for leaving it be. The poll also finds 11 percent oppose the law because it didn’t go far enough.
And as we’ve seen since 2010, support for the actual components of the ACA is much higher: 55 percent support eliminating lifetime caps, 65 percent support changing rules on preexisting conditions, and 75 percent (!) support allowing children to remain on parents’ plans until 26.
As MSNBC’s Simon Maloy put it: “We’re only six days into June, and opponents of the ACA have already had a terrible month.” Which makes it a great month for consumers like you and me.
Visit WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org to find out more information on getting affordable coverage that works for you.
Photo by Obamacare on Facebook
Tags: ACA, Affordable Care Act, California, Health Care, Kentucky, Koch Brothers, Minnesota, Mitch McConnell, New Hampshire, New Jersey, obamacare
While Republicans in Washington, D.C., are doing their best to stop a federal increase to the minimum wage, working families and their allies across the country are fighting to increase the minimum wage at the state and local level. America’s working families consistently support a minimum wage increase, supporting the idea that jobs should lift workers out of poverty, conservatives continue to rely upon disproven criticisms of increasing the wage. But Americans aren’t buying the conservative lies and are demanding that Congress and the president raise the wage for millions of workers, including tipped workers. And many of them aren’t waiting for Washington to get the job done, they’re taking action across the country. The federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009 and wages for tipped workers have been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991. Here’s the latest news on the push for a higher minimum wage across the nation:
Alaska: More than 43,000 signatures were collected in favor of an August ballot initiative that would raise the wage to $9.75 over two years, with an annual increase for inflation.
Arkansas: Labor and community groups are pushing for a ballot measure that would raise the the state minimum wage to $8.50 over the next three years.
Connecticut: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) proposed increasing the wage to $10.10 an hour. The legislature is now considering the bill.
Idaho: Labor and community groups are working on legislation that would increase the wage in the state that has the highest percentage of minimum wage employees in the nation.
Iowa: With the rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25!” working families in Iowa are pushing for a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.
Los Angeles: The Raise L.A. campaign is working on raising the minimum salaries of hotel workers to $15 an hour while the L.A. County Federation invited Pope Francis to visit the city to help champion economic equality for low-wage workers.
Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has joined with Raise Maryland in calling for the state’s wage to be raised to $10.10 an hour. They also are calling for tipped workers to earn at least 70% of the minimum wage.
Massachusetts: The Raise-Up Massachusetts campaign is collecting signatures to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot and is organizing a low-wage worker listening tour.
Minnesota: Working families and their allies are pushing to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, with future increases tied to inflation.
Missouri: Low-wage and tipped workers organized and testified at a critical committee hearing for a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The bill is active in the state Senate.
Nebraska: The legislature is considering a package of bills backed by local labor groups that would raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and require employers to provide paid sick days.
New Hampshire: The state’s labor movement and community allies have made raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour one of their top priorities for 2014.
Pennsylvania: A community coalition launched a campaign to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Seattle: Working families in Seattle are trying to recreate the success of allies in SeaTac in an effort to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.
South Dakota: The South Dakota AFL-CIO and allies successfully placed a minimum wage increase on the ballot that will be voted on in November, raising the state’s wage to $8.50 with an annual cost-of-living increase.
West Virginia: The legislature passed a bill championed by the West Virginia AFL-CIO that would raise the minimum wage to $8.75 and would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.
Do you think America needs a raise? Sign the petition.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: connecticut, idaho, Iowa, Jobs, Los Angeles, maryland, Massachusetts, minimum wage, Minnesota, missouti, nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rights At Work, seattle, South Dakota, West Virginia
The Minnesota legislature is currently holding up the passage of a bill that would raise our minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015. The key sticking point is that the House and Senate cannot agree on whether or not the state’s minimum wage should be indexed to inflation.
Indexing would allow the minimum wage to keep its value in the years to come, by automatically making small annual increases to the wage based on inflation–not based on the current political climate. It is unclear to many of us who support raising the wage, why our DFL-controlled Senate would not want to take this opportunity to take the politics out of future minimum wage increases.
Minimum wage workers haven’t seen a raise in years, and historically the wage has been woefully behind the rising costs of living. In fact, Minnesota has been even further behind almost every other state, with an abysmally low minimum wage of $6.15 an hour, making us one of only four states that have a lower minimum wage than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. This is largely due to politics getting in the way of past efforts to raise the wage.
It continues to be challenging for many states to do more than marginal reforms to minimum wage when conservative groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association spend big money to lobby politicians, spreading the repeatedly debunked myth that the economy will crumble if the minimum wage is increased. The Minnesota DFL majorities in the legislature have a real opportunity to win a strong victory for working people and break this cycle of letting corporations overpower the voice of working people.
Indexing the minimum wage to inflation is a common sense solution to the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans and has already proved to work well in other states. The state of Washington has the highest statewide minimum wage of $9.32 an hour, which has been indexed to inflation since 1998. Since then, Washington’s economy has not only decreased poverty, but it has created more jobs, including a 21 percent increase to the payrolls of restaurants and bars.
The Minnesota Senate needs to do the right thing and follow through to raise the minimum wage and include indexing.
Recently, Working America members have been engaged at the capitol to speak directly with members of the Legislature.
Judith Nunez works two part-time, low-wage jobs and got engaged with the minimum wage campaign for the first time at a workers’ roundtable meeting with legislators who were taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge.“We are all human beings and it shouldn’t be this hard for any of us to provide the basic needs we all share,” Judith told legislators.
Minnesotans need to tell their state senators to support raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015 and it needs to be indexed. Send a message now.
Tags: Chamber of Commerce, inflation, Jobs, minimum wage, Minnesota, National Restaurant Association
After proposing a $9.50 an hour minimum wage, legislators have been unable to decide whether or not the wage should gradually increase in future years.
Casting an even grayer cloud over the likelihood of an increase, Senate majority leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) has said that if the wage does adjust on account of inflation, the bill will be null and void this session.
“It doesn’t look like we’re making a lot of progress,” Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, told his fellow lawmakers as they attempted to negotiate a minimum wage compromise on Wednesday, the Star Tribune reports.
But, there’s still hope. Some legislators are encouraging residents of Minnesota to get involved in order to raise the wage.
On his Twitter feed, Minimum Wage Challenge participant Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) encouraged people to get involved in the fight:
“If you live in Minnesota, and you care about a respectable minimum wage, you need to contact your state senator. Now. #RaiseTheWage.”
Tags: minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota
“Here’s what my $29.96 bought me,” Rep. John Lesch (DFL-Saint Paul) says into the camera. He then turns the camera to his kitchen floor, where he has laid three meals a day for the entire week. Lesch is one of the Minnesota lawmakers participating in our Minimum Wage Challenge, which limits his weekly food budget at roughly $35.
In the homemade video posted on YouTube, Lesch runs over this meal plan: for breakfast, two eggs and one cup of fruit loops; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Ramen noodles for lunch; and depending on the day, repeating that same lunch for dinner. For a few dinners, he includes a Tostino’s Personal Party Pizza.
“Now keep in mind, this is for one person,” he says. “If you have to raise a family, if you have a child, two children on minimum wage, I have no idea how you are going to pull this off.”
We know that many low-wage workers in Minnesota and across the country do have to care for children. Out of more than 356,000 low-wage workers in the state, about 63,000 have at least one child.
As he goes over his meal plan, Lesch points out that he has tried to vary his meals day to day–a few tuna sandwiches mixed in with the PB&J, no mayo–but that it’s a pretty repetitive diet. There’s also no fruits or vegetables, save for a few cans of green beans and corn.
“I don’t know how sick of this I’ll get,” Lesch concludes, “or how fat I will get, eating all the MSGs and whatever else is in the Ramen…and all the fat in the pizza.”
The lack of nutrition available on a minimum wage budget struck Moorhead City Councilwoman Heidi Durand as well. “I can’t tolerate another can of condensed soup…I haven’t had fresh fruit or veggies since Wednesday,” she reported, “I know one thing: our minimum wage is not healthy!”
We’ve heard since we were children about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. The calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables are especially important for a child’s development, but also for adults to protect against osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, and even mental conditions like Alzheimer’s and depression.
Durand said she felt the emotional pressure even after just a few days. “[Living on minimum wage] is not emotionally healthy either. There were several moments where I felt completely dependent and helpless and the only thing that got me through was knowing it was temporary.”
The Minnesota legislative session will begin today, February 25. Tell the Minnesota Senate to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.
Tags: hunger, minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota, nutritional assistance
Imagine what it’s like to be 6 months pregnant, relying on the bus to get you to and from your two minimum wage jobs. How would it feel to have nothing left over after you paid for food and rent?
Nationally, his is a familiar plight for many low-wage workers. For Minnesota-based Judith Nunez, Jim Parsons and Lucila Dominquez, this is reality.
Yesterday, two of the Minnesota legislators participating in our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge sat down with minimum wage workers for a “Reality Check” meeting. The conversation shed a powerful light on what it means to be a minimum wage worker.
Dominquez, whose wages give her enough for food and shelter only, revealed that tough times have led her to advocate for workers’ rights. “I am unable to do anything else [with my money], which is why I’ve gotten involved in organizing for raising our wages and working conditions,” she said.
For Working America member Nunez, who is pregnant with her first child and often exhausted from her hectic work schedule and difficult commute, the fight for minimum wage is about equality and community. “We are all human beings and it shouldn’t be this hard for any of us to provide the basic needs we all share,” she says.
It shouldn’t be difficult, but the reality is that more than 200,000 Minnesotans are working for the minimum wage of $7.25, often for companies that post enormous profits. Among the 50 low-wage employers, 92 percent were profitable last year, and 63 percent are earning higher profits than they were before the recession. That’s the reality of minimum wage work in this country and this is what it looks like.
“I work at the Mall of America, where there are a huge number of people working for minimum wage. I see them work very hard and make a lot of money for the companies who employ them. It seems only right to me that their work should be valued at a higher level and all workers should be getting at least $9.50 (an) hour,” said Jim Parsons, a 53 year old father of three from South Minneapolis. Parsons, unable to find work in his field, works three part-time jobs to support himself and his three children.
These people, like so many others, are the face of minimum wage workers in America. They are not the stereotype of teenagers making extra pocket money. They are adults, current or expecting parents, oftentimes the breadwinners of their household. They work diligently, make tough choices like skipping meals, and still have difficulty making ends meet; often they end up relying on taxpayer-funded services like Medicaid and SNAP just to get by while their employers continue to pocket record profits.
“We all work hard, we all get tired, we all struggle to get by and we all deserve better,” Dominquez said.
Send a message to the Minnesota legislature: tell them it’s time to raise the minimum wage.
Tags: minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota, Walmart
Over the past week, five Minnesota lawmakers have taken the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, calling attention to the struggles of low wage workers by living one week on a minimum wage budget.
But what about the executives of the companies that pay those low wages? Do they know what life is like on $7.25 or $8 an hour?
On Wednesday, February 19, workers who are contracted to clean Target stores joined Organizing for Action (OFA) for an event outside of the Target store in Minneapolis to call for a raise in wages for Minnesota workers. At the event, workers called on Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel to take our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and try to live for one week on a budget from $7.25 per hour.
Maricela Flores, a mother of five who works for Carlson Building Maintenance cleaning a Target store, told of the stresses that come with poverty wages and asked Mr. Steinhafel to take the challenge.
“I am a single mother of 5 children trying to get by on the $8 an hour I am paid to clean a Target store,” Flores said, “It must be difficult for the CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel, to understand what it is like to be paid such low wages.”
“In 2012 Mr. Steinhafel made over $9,900 an hour–he does not have to live the constant reality of choosing between paying rent, food, clothes, health care,” said Flores, who is a member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), a Twin Cities worker center. “We are calling on Mr. Steinhafel to take the ‘Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and live on $7.25 an hour for one week to understand what we face.”
Also speaking at the event was Enrique Barcenas, who works for Prestige Maintenance USA cleaning a Target store. He spoke of the need for homegrown companies like Target and powerful leaders like Mr. Steinhafel to take a lead to ensure that no one willing to work full time should have to live in poverty in our state.
“Every evening I work cleaning a Target store, surrounded by food and other necessities that I can’t afford to buy. The cost of living goes up every year, yet our wages remain stagnant,” said Barcenas, also a member of CTUL. “Now is the time for change. It is time for companies like Target to support fair wages for Minnesotan families. It is time for retail janitorial companies to recognize our right to organize.”
The group went into Target headquarters after the rally, but were not allowed to talk with Mr. Steinhafel. They left the guidelines for the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge with the security guards who blocked the entrance and asked for confirmation whether Mr. Steinhafel will accept the challenge to live a week in the shoes of a minimum wage worker. They were not given a response.
On February 25, the Minnesota AFL-CIO and community allies will rally at the Capitol Rotunda in Saint Paul to call on legislators to take action on raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.
Photo by CTUL on Facebook
Tags: CTUL, minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota, retail, Target
Surfing a rental housing website for low-cost apartments in her district on the south side of Minneapolis, State Rep. Karen Clark didn’t find much to choose from. Not much that was very appealing, anyhow.
“It looks like a little box. It’s weird looking,” said Clark, checking the photo of a house for rent from her office in the state capitol. In her price range — $375 a month while she is living on the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge — she wouldn’t be renting the whole house. Just one room is available — in a shared house with three adult men.
“It would be very discouraging,” she says. To live in shared housing, she says, “I would have to go back to my early days out of school; that’s what I did when I got out of college. If I had children, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Clark and four other Minnesota legislators — Reps. Frank Hornstein (Minneapolis), John Lesch (St. Paul), Jason Metsa (Virginia) and Shannon Savick (Wells) — have accepted the Minimum Wage Challenge. To help educate their colleagues as the legislature debates raising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, they’re living this week as if they earned the current minimum of $7.25 an hour. That translates to $15,080 a year, or $1,256 a month. A standard housing budget is 30 percent of income, leaving Clark and her colleagues $375 to find a place to live.
At that price, there aren’t many options. “I can tell you that two years ago, in order to rent a two-bedroom apartment in my district, you had to have an income of $17.25 an hour,” says Clark. “It may have changed some, but it hasn’t gone down.”
Coping with adult roommates is only one of the challenges facing those with a minimal budget for shelter. “Some of the housing that’s available is not appropriate for children. It has a lot of lead paint. That’s very toxic for toddlers,” says Clark, who worked as a nurse practitioner before she was elected to the legislature.
In addition to raising wages, she says, Minnesota needs to invest more in affordable housing. “We have around 20,000 homeless people, and half of those are children. We have waiting lists for public housing. We know how to make housing affordable — you can use land trusts — but it costs money.”
Money is one thing Clark doesn’t have much of this week. Her food budget is just $35 a week. “I had a good breakfast,” she says. “One egg and toast, with a little extra olive oil. I think that was helpful.”
“I’m not suffering,” she is quick to point out. But Clark also has noticed “being on the edge of hunger” more than a few times. How does she cope? “Drinking more water,” she says, with a chuckle. “If I’m hungry, I’ll have a big glass of water.”
“It’s both inspiring and challenging,” says Clark, to learn what life is like for those living on minimum wage. “It increases my resolve, and I look forward to passing that law” to give low-wage workers in Minnesota a raise to $9.50 an hour. “I do think more of us who are making that kind of decision should live on what we’re asking people to do. I think that would open some eyes.”
Take action now and help raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50.
Tags: Housing, minimum wage, minimum wage challenge, Minnesota