Minimum Wage Is a Women’s Issue
I was a recent graduate in journalism from a prestigious state university, having been living temporarily in my teenage bedroom in my mother’s house with my then husband, a college drop-out at a time when the expectation and assumption was that if we were over 18, we were no longer literally part of our parents’ households. We moved into a modest apartment with thin walls, erratic heat, and monthly rent and utility bills.
He was working low wage swing shift in the credit department of a major furniture dealer 30 miles away, after having done some time at an even lower paying job in a canned food warehouse. I had given up looking for a position even vaguely related to my major and the field I had been trained for, landing a very part-time job as a counter girl (and girl it was) in an ice cream store, handing out samples of apple strudel and rocky road (chocolate and walnuts) ice cream and scooping cones from the bottom of cardboard containers. After only a few days, my hands and arms were cramped and sore and my fingers burned from spending so much time in frost and ice. To this day I cannot imagine tasting, let alone relishing any of the dozens of rotating flavors.
I was paid $1.60 an hour, minimum wage, with of course no benefits at all.
Fortunately, it was not too long before a student loan for graduate school kicked in. But long enough for us to experience extreme paycheck anxiety, worries about securing enough good food to support my first pregnancy, and gratitude for the possibility of bridge loans and gifts from parents who did not in general believe it was their responsibility to provide for us. Who nonetheless would not let us be homeless or completely without means, unlike so many others in our situation as struggling young adults.
We were, I was even then not the assumed typical minimum wage worker: a teenager working part-time after school, living with two fully employed parents, earning extra spending money, staying out of trouble. Then, as now, 88 percent of minimum wage workers were over 20 (the average 35 years old), two thirds of them women.
The restaurant industry: the scoopers, the servers, the dishwashers, the cooks, provide six of our country’s 10 lowest paying jobs. Over half (five million +) of all these workers are women, two million of them mothers, one million of them single mothers.
This week my colleague, Kara Smith, who does advocacy and mobilization work for our sister UU associational partner, the UU Service Committee, is on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, along with hundreds of workers and many organizations that support raising both the regular minimum wage and the minimum wage paid to tipped workers. The UU Women’s Federation is part of this effort.
She is urging us to call our US Senators TODAY (or as soon as possible at 866-204-2557 to urge them to vote in favor of S.1737, the Minimum Wage Fairness Act.
She warns us that “powerful detractors will try to stop a raise to the minimum wage.”
But she reminds us that we have the moral power and strength in numbers.