I am here to make a confession: I’ve been leading you astray. I didn’t mean to, it was totally unintentional, and we (probably) haven’t even met. Still, my bad.
If you think of the average low-wage worker, you probably think of me. Young, working part-time to help pay for school and gas, plans to change jobs soon. Many people think low-wage jobs are held by teens and young adults who hope to earn a bit of extra pocket money on nights and weekends. And since the age of 15, that has been me. I have worked part-time for that very pocket money in order to subsidize my incredible coffee addiction, buy the newest pair of shoes, and pay for movies and entertainment.
However, the reality of the situation is that minimum wage jobs in America are disproportionally held by adults. Most work full-time. And many have children and families to support.
I have been lucky enough to be able to explore one of my passions while making a bit of extra money by working as a florist in California for the past three years. Working at this job was my choice. I do not have a family to support, and my parents help contribute to my schooling and living expenses. I’m incredibly thankful and lucky to be in this situation, but for so many women — who make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers — this is simply not the case.
Women make up 76 percent of workers in the 10 largest low-wage occupations, so it’s not surprising that at every age level, women tend to be overrepresented in jobs that pay $10.10 per hour or less. And although these workers are living on very tight budgets — a woman working full-time at the federal minimum wage makes just $14,500 per year — many are the primary or sole source of income for their families.
The numbers don’t lie: Whatever your personal experience — or what you’ve heard on Fox News about who’s working these jobs — the average minimum wage worker isn’t a teenager getting spending money.
At my job I am fortunate to have a decent schedule and do something I enjoy and love; however, I am one of the youngest people who works part time at the shop. The vast majority of my coworkers there are women with children who are working a low-wage job because they need to make ends meet. Hopefully, they also enjoy the work, but the truth is that many are supporting families on little income.
Proposed legislation — the Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010/S. 460) and the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S.1737) — would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, raise the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage, and tie both wages to inflation. A failed vote in the Senate this spring doesn’t mean the debate is over. States are still taking action, and raising the minimum wage will no doubt be part of the conversation at the upcoming White House Summit on Working Families. But as the conversation continues, it’s time for the myth of the “average” minimum wage worker to be replaced by a very different reality.