It's been five years

since Congress last raised the federal minimum wage.

Working full time to support a family shouldn't ever mean living below the poverty line, but that's true for too many Americans today.

It can be easy to get lost in statistics and figures, but the stories of Janet, Jacob, and Heather show what life is really like being a low-wage worker—and the importance of raising the wage now.

Think you could live on the minimum wage?
Take the #LiveTheWage Challenge.

Janet Rowland

Raleigh, NC

I’m a single mother of three, struggling to make ends meet while working on $7.50 an hour. I’m also currently in school, taking business classes in order to better educate myself and improve my family’s life.

Raising the minimum wage would provide such a relief for my family. Even though I know it’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, it would mean a lot to us. Most months, it’s hard for me to have enough money to get through the next paycheck. Every time I try to put a bit of money away in savings, it seems that an emergency just comes up and I’m back down again at square one. Recently, I hurt my wrist and was under doctors’ orders to wear a brace, but it impacted my ability to work. I kept working without it, but eventually the doctors told me I couldn’t work until it healed. We barely scraped by.

While in school, I don’t have much time to spend with my children. My classes take up the entire morning and then I work from 2 pm to close. I usually don’t get home until past midnight most nights, so by the time I get home, my kids are usually already asleep. I’m extremely lucky that my children’s child care provider is flexible and can accommodate what I need to do to go to school and earn even the small living that I do. I know there are many others who don’t even have this option.

Lawmakers need to think of all the single mothers out there barely scraping by. I work hard. I teach my children that you still have to work hard and earn your keep. I teach them that it’s an incredible feeling to be able to support yourself.

I’d prefer to have the money to be independent and take care of my family but I just can’t do it on my current wage. We need the government to raise the wage so families like mine can earn an income that allows us to be stable and work our way up, not living in constant fear that I’m not going to get my kids their next meal. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Jacob Keele

Atlanta, GA

My fiancée and I live together and look forward to building a life together. Right now I’m the only source of income — my fiancée continues to look for entry-level jobs while she finishes school, but they’re hard to come by. I work about 55-60 hours a week at two different jobs. We live as frugally as possible. Some weeks, we don’t have enough for groceries to last us until my next paycheck, so we stretch out what food we do have.

The idea of us ever owning a car is laughable, much less a home to start a family.

I think a lot of us making minimum wage feel like we’re being cheated and I wish lawmakers would put themselves in our shoes. I think if they spent some time looking at the situation from our perspective, they would realize it’s just not possible to support yourself living on the current minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage would not give us anything that anyone would consider luxuries. We would still need to work hard to make ends meet. But a higher wage would put food on our table when there isn’t any. It would allow us to look for a place to live in a safer community. These are basic things that would allow us to live a decent life.

Heather Holstein

Chicago, IL

I really believe that everyone should be able to have some sense of independence in their lives. For me, a big piece of that is getting a good education, so I’ve worked hard and am proud to say that I just finished my Associate’s degree. I want to get my Bachelor’s degree but the reality is that I just can’t afford it right now. I’m currently an hourly paid employee, and my company sets strict limits on the amount of hours I can work each week.

I’ve been at my job for a year and a half and in that time I’ve gotten one raise — 11 cents. I have a few thousand dollars of hospital debt, but unfortunately with my current income I am unable to pay any of it off.

I don’t think my current living situation is sustainable.

Both of my parents are on disability, so financially, it’s not an option to ask family for help. My boyfriend and I split living expenses — I feel so lucky to have that small bit of relief. We’d like to get married and start a family, but with my current income I’m not sure when we’ll be able to do that. Increasing the minimum wage would provide just another bit of relief — I wouldn’t constantly worry if I can afford to go to the doctor or buy food for the week. Even an increase of a dollar an hour would make a world of a difference to me. I would be in a better position to pay off my hospital debt and finish school. My boyfriend and I could start planning our life together.

I can’t understand why some leaders in government won’t do anything about this. It’s not right that people working hard can be in such a shaky situation — one bill could put me over the edge. They need to understand how hard this is and how much we are suffering.

TAKE THE CHALLENGE

Someone who works full time on the minimum wage earns only $290 a week — after housing costs and taxes, that breaks down to just $77 a week to spend on food and transportation.

People across the country are taking the challenge — see if you could live on the minimum wage for a week. For details, download this information sheet (PDF).

$7.25
/HOUR
$290
per week

LESS

$176.48
average for housing
$35.06
average for taxes
$77
remaining
per week

Join the conversation online by sharing your experience of living on the minimum wage for a week and ask your friends and family take the challenge.