What can you buy for $9.30? A sandwich and bottle of water at a bodega in New York City. A cab ride from Wall Street to my office. If you’re fortunate you can think of many other frivolous things you can do with $9.30.
Now what can you buy if you earn ONLY $9.30 AN HOUR?
Should I pay my electric bill, mail my rent check, or buy food? Should I buy the generic medicine in the drug store or hope I get better without it? Should I leave my 8-year old alone at home, lock the door, and go to work or beg a neighbor to let her sleep at her apartment?
If you have not had to ask yourself these questions you are lucky. You are also in a shrinking group of Americans who are well enough off to not have to think about making trade-offs to fulfill basic needs. But if you are an employee at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or any other number of fast-food restaurants in the United States you have asked yourself these questions more times than you can remember.
If you make $9.05 an hour (the median pay for fast-food workers), work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year (no vacation, no sick days) your annual income is $18,824. The 2011 US poverty line, a threshold by which the US government uses to determine how many people live in poverty, isn’t far from that number. If you are an individual, your poverty line is $11,702. If you’re a household of two people (say a mother and one child), your poverty line is $14,657. A family of four’s line is $23,021.
After years of not being able to make a living sufficient to supply basics to their families, fast-food workers are speaking out. They are taking to the street to demand a living wage – $15 an hour – which is still only $31,200 a year. These employees want to be self-sufficient, not having to rely on food stamps, urgent care facilities, and a myriad of other support services the government provides. The US Service Employees International Union is supporting workers’ demands for not only a raise, but for the chance to form unions without intimidation by management.
Forget the luxury of taking a taxi instead of the bus or buying a latte on your way into work. People working for a pittance work hard and want that work to enable them to take care of their families. Is wanting to be self sufficient and provide a safe, warm, and hunger-free environment really too much to ask for?