Wage hike could lift family up

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 26 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:09 am in

By Alicia McCrary


It has been a whirlwind week. I’ve traveled to Washington D.C., met members of Congress and testified in front of the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Why did I do this? Because I am one of the 15 million women and 28 million American workers who would see a better quality of life and be lifted out of poverty if the federal minimum wage was raised to $10.10 per hour.

I am not a native Iowan but this state welcomed me and my four boys — ages 11, a set of 10-year-old twins and a 5-year-old — after I left Illinois and a domestically violent relationship.

Iowa has given us a second chance.

As a single parent, these boys are my responsibility. It is a big job and one in which I cannot fail. To help us start a new life here, I enrolled in the Family Development and Self-Sufficiency Program, a program designed to help me fulfill a dream to become self-sufficient and get off government assistance. I want to give back to my community and not have to rely on it to survive. However, right now that is not a reality.

While raising four boys is a full-time job itself, I also work 20-25 hours a week in the fast food industry. After a year of working at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, I got a 40-cent cent raise to $7.65.

My wage increase — however small — meant that I did not need as much support for housing and food, and through TANF. The more I earn, the less support I need. Right now, I earn about $450 a month in salary, receive $256 from TANF and about $240 in food assistance. My fixed expenses include rent, utilities and bus passes, which together cost almost $600 a month. My budget is really, really tight.

I am not earning a living wage for my family and we need to make many hard choices every month. Like most kids, the boys want to fit in with their friends and classmates. They want to participate in activities like sports and band but I never have enough money to let them all do it, so we rotate who gets to do what.

One year, someone will get to play football (it costs $75) and the other two participate in basketball, which is less. I pay $20 a month per child so they can bring their computers home to do their homework. These are basic things for my boys but a huge economic struggle for me.

If our representatives in Washington that I spoke to this week would raise the wage, I would make more money on my own and not have to rely on a government program.

These programs are supposed to be temporary, not permanent, and trust me — I want to get off them as soon as possible provide for my family. A $10.10 hourly wage won’t solve all my budget problems, but it would make a huge difference.

My family could continue to decrease our reliance on government assistance, I could save $20 a week and just maybe the boys wouldn’t have to trade off who can play football and basketball each year.

An increase in the minimum wage would mean my family would be one step closer of reaching our goal of a better life.

Alicia McCrary resides in Northwood. Her column was provided by Iowa Community Action Association. Comments: iowa@iowacommunityaction.org

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