Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

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We applaud Senator Mark Leno's decision to reintroduce legislation (SB3) that aims to raise California's minimum wage to $11 an hour in 2016 and $13 in 2017. Six out of ten minimum wage workers are women. In this post, Jane Pak talks to a 63-year-old minimum wage worker from Fairfield, Angela Grott.

Beautiful Older Woman
Photo: rifqi dahlgren via photopin cc. Not a picture of Angela Grott.

4:00 AM: She’s up before the sun to catch the news.
7:00 AM: She’s finished a lengthy phone conversation with me.
8:00 AM: She’s showered and goes to three job interviews at 8:30 AM, 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM. In between and after, she squeezes in temp jobs that barely keep her afloat.
7:00 PM: She’s finally back home, exhausted.

63 year-old Marin County resident, Angela Gott, has had this schedule for three years now. She started working when she was 18 years old, has earned multiple college and advanced degrees, participated in the Peace Corps and has traveled to 90 countries and all 50 states.

Yet, even with all her experiences and education, she has always worked minimum wage jobs. She was okay with that and it wasn’t a problem in the 1960s, when minimum wage was $1.60 an hour, meaning that it had the equivalent buying power of $10.69 in 2014 dollars.

“You could actually live on minimum wage back then. You could rent an apartment, own a car and buy groceries,” Angela says.

However, the current minimum wage of $9 an hour isn’t enough to support even the most frugal of lifestyles. Angela doesn’t own a cell phone or cable and drives a 1985 Toyota Tercel, which is starting to give her trouble.

Over the years, she has held many jobs. From 2003 to 2011, she was working her dream job at a Borders bookstore. There she had access to countless books, five weeks paid vacation and numerous benefits. She worked there for eight years and increased her wages from what was then the minimum wage to $10.23 per hour. But then the bookseller had to close its doors. 10,000 people lost their jobs and Angela was one of them.

Since then, Angela has been working hard to make ends meet. In 2013, she worked eight different temp and seasonal jobs. But they all paid under $9 an hour and she only earned $5,601 for the year.

She has been looking for permanent, full-time work for three years now. But data shows that women and men over 62 who have been unemployed for 17 months have only about a six percent chance of finding a new job in the next three months. So, without a secure income, working part-time and on an irregular schedule, Angela is now worrying about the looming possibility of homelessness.

It’s no wonder then that Angela is discouraged. She has stopped believing in equal opportunity, upward mobility, the American Dream.

“Minimum wage jobs today do not sustain life at all. There is so much pay inequality now that the American Dream no longer exists for the majority of the people living here. It’s impossible to survive with low-wage jobs. It just can’t be done.”

Angela is worried about her present situation, but she dreads her uncertain future even more. She worries about her social security benefits when she retires, which will be extremely low because she’s always held minimum wage jobs. This, she says, is another negative consequence of low wages.

Once they retire, minimum wage workers receive less in benefits and are more likely to face homelessness, food insecurity and poverty.

We have the responsibility to do the best we can to make the future a better place for women like Angela, children and families. Join us and support Senator Mark Leno’s bill (SB3) to gradually raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2017. It’s a bold step forward for working women and families.

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