Only in the United States, among developed countries, can a person work two jobs and still not make enough to survive. It’s been known for some time that $7.25 an hour doesn’t even cover basic living costs; now, pictures published by Slate show the human cost of living well below the poverty line while still working as hard as possible.
The human cost of poverty
Mona Lee is one such person living beneath the poverty line; on some days, Kansas City woman will begin one shift at McDonald’s at 6 a.m., end that shift at 1 p.m., and then pick up another shift almost immediately at Sonic that lasts until 8 p.m., meaning she works over 12 hours a day.
And because both jobs pay $7.25 an hour, she doesn’t even make enough to cover basic expenses.
“I don’t understand how I can work at two jobs and not have enough money to put food in the house,” she said. “We need to be able to live.”
A “living wage” is defined as a “theoretical wage level” that would allow earners to “afford adequate shelter, food, and other necessities of life” and is large enough to “ensure that no more than 30 percent of it needs to be spent on housing.” It’s important to note that a living wage is not a just wage, however.
Suffice to say that $7.25 is not a living wage or a just wage.
Lee is far from the only person living on the edge of subsistence. Slate quoted Zoey Abbey, 32, who works for Popeye’s and makes around $8 an hour. Before she worked in fast food, Abbey worked as a teacher.
Both women feature in an exhibit on display at Kansas City’s Talk Shop Gallery through May 31 called “I, Too, Am America.” Lee is also one of the many people who’ve joined a movement with other low-wage workers around the world called Fight for $15, which seeks to redress socioeconomic ills by increasing the minimum wage for fast food workers, as well as giving them the right to unionize.
Abbey told Slate that the purpose of the exhibit, which consists of pictures from the daily lives of people who make under $15 an hour, is to defeat the stereotype that “all fast-food workers are teenagers who live with their parents and don’t have responsibilities.”
She added that it was “about educating the public. It’s about letting them know how we live. We’re not that different from you. We want to live and we want to thrive,” and that a $15 an hour minimum wage would mean not having to choose between paying electricity and paying her phone bill.
Pictures of life below the poverty line
Victories and setbacks
Living under the oppressive thumb of poverty is stressful, and one thing it requires is hope. The same year that the workers began to photograph their daily life, the Fight for $15 movement began to grow.
Last month, some 60,000 low-wage earners gathered across the country to protest for higher wages, making it the largest demonstration of its kind in U.S. history; this month, in a New York Times op-ed, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his plan to raise the pay of fast food workers
Governor Cuomo isn’t alone among the politicians who are seeking to raise the minimum wage, but at times it can seem they’re outnumbered, both by oligarchs who oppose the idea of paying their employees and the bucket of crabs the oligarchs rhetorically appeal to. For instance, Republican lawmaker Caleb Rowan drafted legislation in February that would ban municipalities from increasing the minimum wage, as well as requiring employers provide sick days.
Still, Mona Lee told “Slate” that she isn’t discouraged. The victories in Seattle and San Francisco have inspired her to be optimistic about potential change in her home town, but until that day arrives, she said that she’ll “keep fighting” and that, “We’re gonna do this. I believe we can do this.”
Featured image via Slate