Can Working Mothers Survive on Minimum Wage?
Did you know that the majority of workers making minimum wage are women? Did you know that the national minimum wage is $7.25/hour? According to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), that means that a woman working full time, year round at the federal minimum wage earns just $14,500—more than $3,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.
I can’t help but wonder how many of the women making minimum wage are also mothers? Let’s look at the facts. Twenty-six million mothers--more than 72% of all moms in the United States today--work full or part-time. We know that millions of families are struggling to make ends meet. We also know that nearly 30% of working single-mother families were poor in 2010 and the statistics are even more grim for working single-mother families of color (according to the NWLC). It’s easy then to conclude that the vast majority of women earning minimum wage are parents trying to support their families.
How do working mothers survive on minimum wage? I honestly can’t imagine. Here in Connecticut, we are slightly ahead of the U.S. with our current minimum wage standing at $8.25. That means someone working full-time makes around $330/week. Considering Connecticut’s cost of living is the highest in the nation, $330 doesn’t go very far.
I can’t help but relate that $330 number back to my own costs. I pay $205/week for full-time child care and that’s less than the going rate in my area. On top of my child care costs I have to pay for groceries, heat, housing and transportation/gas. If I were making minimum wage and having to pay for full-time child care I literally could not pay my bills. I’m sure there are thousands of women in Connecticut facing that exact problem.
What is the incentive to work outside the home while leaving your children in someone else’s care only to make a little more than the cost of that care? The answer is, for many women facing bleak job prospects, there is no incentive -- so some mothers end up relying on government support because the benefits of working outside of the home don’t outweigh the negatives.
There are those who think that mothers who choose this path are just “lazy” and should “get a job” but it’s not that simple. Answer me this -- if you were faced with the choice of putting your children in daycare to work at a job where you made barely enough to cover that care or staying home with your children and accepting government help, what would you do?
For those of us who are fortunate not to have to face these questions, it can be hard to put ourselves in the position of someone who does. The reality is there are far too many mothers struggling to make ends meet. Increasing the minimum wage is one way to help boost the economic viability of working families and to support mothers in their efforts to “make work pay.”