America’s minimum wage debate continues to spark conflict. The Federal minimum wage proposal has stalled in Congress, languishing while both sides of the aisle dispute the law’s costs and benefits, pitting low income (mostly female) earners against beleaguered small business owners and big business profit margins. Caregiver pay remains higher than minimum wage but can still be a challenge - take the survey at the bottom of this post.
The HBO Documentary: Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert puts a name to the face of the female low-wage earner. Ms. Gilbert is a Certified Nursing Assistant, working 40 hours per week in a Tennessee nursing home, raising three children as a single woman. Filmed over the course of a year in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where minimum wage is $7.25. Gilbert’s hourly wage in the documentary is $9.49 (raised 14 cents an hour two years after filming ended) and is, as the documentary clearly illustrates, far below a comfortable living wage, especially when one is the primary breadwinner for a family of four. Although her job as a C.N.A. is above the minimum wage level, expenses force her to make choices for her family that many of us can imagine needing to make. She regularly gives up filling her own medical prescriptions in order to pay rent, car insurance and daycare. Because she has no paid sick days, if one of the children falls ill and needs to stay home, that loss of income can devastate the family budget. She is full of anxiety when she learns her family will lose its food stamps — the one reliable safety net to ensure all her children are fed.
Produced in association with 'The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink’, a multi-platform project is an initiative that “illuminates the day-to-day challenges of millions of working poor women in America today.” 42 million women (one in three) in America and the 28 million children who depend on them are living in poverty or on the brink. Executive producer Maria Shriver, during a live town hall event, remarked to Oprah Winfrey that women like Ms. Gilbert are the new face of poverty. "People who live paycheck to paycheck, they don't look like they're a bum on the street," Shriver says. "They're the person sitting next to you in a cubicle." Shriver’s goal? Building women’s economic empowerment.
Some states are fully cognizant of the needs of the low income wage earner and are taking steps to increase minimum wage regardless of federal mandate.
As Caregiverlist recently reported, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017. Maryland’s House passed a bill that would raise its wage to $10.10 an hour earlier this month, and Hawaii is expected to pass the legislature in April to raise its minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. ThinkProgress.org has provided a handy infographic showing the states that are currently considering a minimum wage increase or have passed one within the last year. Five other states have considered a $10.10 wage and four are looking at $10. People argue that wage would put it in line with where it would be if it had kept up with inflation since the 1960s. And though conservatives argue that higher wages will result in job loss, the following states increased their minimum wage and actually saw higher employment numbers: Rhode Island, Colorado, Montana, Vermont, Arizona, Oregon, Florida, Washington, Ohio and New York.
In Europe, Swiss voters will decide a referendum that would create a national minimum wage (there is no minimum wage present now) of 22 Swiss francs ($24.99) per hour. If approved, Switzerland will be home to the highest minimum wage in the world. There too, supporters say “the minimum wage will help elevate the country’s 330,000 mostly female low-wage workers who struggle to make ends meet in the high-priced country.” Elsewhere, Germany recently decided to raise its minimum hourly wage to 8.50 euros ($11.69), and the UK’s will increase to 6.31 pounds ($10.55).
Would the proposed minimum wage hike have any real impact on the life of someone like Ms. Gilbert, detractors ask. “I wouldn’t mind if it was $60,” she says. “Even if it was a tank of gas.” Asked what’s the single economic change would affect her life the most, Ms. Gilbert doesn’t hesitate. “I think that raising the minimum wage… sick days would be great.”
What do you think? Would raising the minimum wage affect your life? What other measures could federal or state governments mandate to make a difference to your quality of life?
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