Last week, I had a pretty amazing experience. I was invited to a meeting/rally/discussion about minimum wage. Specifically, a community push to raise minimum wage to $15/hour.
I remember hearing about the fast food workers' strikes. They've been going on since 2012. And to be honest, while I have never believed that minimum wage was a livable wage, I haven't put a whole lot of thought into it. I am a social worker, I fully understand how ludicrous and unrealistic our "poverty line" is and I know that no one can actually live with just one minimum wage job... yet I haven't given it that much space in my head. At least not much about my responsibility in relation to the problem.
So that night, I went to listen. I'm not well-versed on the subject. In the past, I've read some studies saying that a $15 minimum wage would be feasible in our economy; I've also read some that say it would cause job loss and could ultimately harm those it should help. I'm not an economist, I hadn't done a lot of research. But one thing I can do: I can listen.
And that night, I heard the voices. There was a panel of people involved in the movement. A dad of a sweet boy still in diapers, struggling to provide for his son, sharing the indignity of having a strong work ethic, yet being paid little and treated even worse in a minimum wage job. A recent college grad sharing that he was the first in his family to graduate from college, his family feeling like finally a college education was accessible to people of color... and then realizing that soon he has to start paying back that $25,000 student debt, and can't find a job that will pay him enough to manage his debt and support himself. I heard from an in-home healthcare worker who has to work 80-120 hours a week just to support her family. There was a teacher there, describing the struggle of teacher's assistants and the effects on the children of the low-wage families she teaches. These are good people, people who are taking time out of their busy lives to make a difference... all while struggling to provide for their families because their jobs don't provide livable wages.
And then I was shocked. Y'all... I have been a social worker for almost 14 years. I do not get shocked. Nothing surprises me anymore. But I learned last night that our community has adjunct professors at our universities that are struggling to make it. We have PROFESSORS who can't pay their bills, Masters and PhD professors who are forced to teach 10 classes a semester at more than one university just to make ends meet. And they are afraid to talk about it. A statement was read from one such professor. She didn't attend the rally because she feared she'd lose her job if her university knew she was speaking out.
The meeting started in the most beautiful way. It was a call and response chant: "I love my brothers, I love my sisters, I love my kindred." If you've never attended a community action event, go do it. Even if you aren't sure you support the cause. Put faces to the people who are struggling. Hear the voices of the people asking to be heard. No matter what we believe or think, we can always listen.
And I have Privilege - I can walk away from this gathering and do nothing. I could go back to my every-day life. But just like I believe it takes a village to raise a good child, I believe it takes a village to create a good community. So now I've accepted part of the burden. I want to carry the message, carry their voices. I want y'all to know.
Here's my concern: $7.25 an hour is not nearly enough for someone to support themselves, much less a family. Clearly we need livable wages. If our economy can't handle paying folks $15 for minimum wage... what is wrong with our system? Something is seriously wrong if we have an economic system that can't handle paying, at minimum, a livable wage. These are the tough questions. The wealth gaps in our country are ever-widening. Our rich are getting richer and our poor are getting poorer. This scares me.
When someone says something and it doesn't line up with my own experiences, it's easy to discount it. I see this happen all the time. But what if we listened? What if we believed people when they told us their stories, their struggles? When I hear you, I become part of your story and we can share our burdens. We can walk together.
I had the beautiful honor to listen last week. And if you are so inclined, you can learn more about the Raise Up for 15 movement here: http://www.raiseupfor15.org/
There's probably not a simple solution. But no matter where you stand on the matter of minimum wage.... I want to remind you that we can always listen. It may be more powerful than you think.
Want some more resources? I found these helpful in understanding minimum-wage, livable or "Living Wage"
This article is long, but great. If you are short on time, read the first two pages:
This one is from back in 2013, but still has some good info on minimum wage:
And just a fun-fact.. minimum wage hasn't been adjusted for inflation in a looooong time. If it had been, it would already be over $10/hour. Yikes.