Choices: My Life on the Minimum Wage

Filed in DOL, Jobs, Minimum Wage, Secretary Perez by on March 19, 2014 7 Comments

Editor’s note: Alicia McCrary, a low-wage worker from Northwood, Iowa, recently testified at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions on “How a Fair Minimum Wage Will Help Working Families Succeed.” Her blog post is based on the testimony she shared.

Alicia McCrary

Alicia McCrary testifies at a March 12, 2014, Senate HELP Committee hearing on the minimum wage.

My name is Alicia McCrary. I’m the mother of four wonderful boys − an 11-year-old, twins who are 10 and a 5-year-old. I am the sole parent responsible for my boys’ emotional, spiritual, physical and mental development. It’s a big job and I love them so much. I also earn just above the federal minimum wage, which means making hard choices every day. This is my story:

I moved to Iowa with my boys almost two years ago, after leaving a domestically violent relationship and living in a shelter in Illinois. I enrolled in North Iowa Community Action’s Family Development and Self‐Sufficiency Program, which is helping me become self‐sufficient. This is exactly what I want to do: I would prefer to get my money from a paycheck instead of from the “system.”

I usually work around 20‐25 hours a week in the fast food industry. My job requires me to be quick, efficient and flexible. I do it all − cooking, taking orders, cleaning − and it is hard work. I have been at my current job a little more than a year. My pay started at $7.25 an hour and was raised to $7.65 an hour at the 1-year mark.

With this raise came a slight increase in my rent, as we live in subsidized housing. The raise also meant a cut in food assistance and in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). I earn about $450 a month from my job, and receive $256 from TANF and about $240 in food assistance − hardly enough to feed four growing boys. My fixed expenses like rent, utilities and bus passes cost almost $600 a month. So you can see that my budget is really tight.

My boys are like most kids, wanting to fit in with their friends and classmates. They’d like to participate in extra-curricular activities but I never have enough money to let them all do it, so I have to rotate who gets to do what. One year, someone will get to play football (which costs $75) and the other two participate in basketball ($18). I let my oldest son participate in the school band as he loves playing the drums. I’m glad that is the cheapest activity at just $5 a month.

I also have to pay $20 a month per child so they can bring their computers home to do homework. We don’t have one at home so this choice is the only one I can make. They can never all get a haircut in the same month, and I usually can’t buy new shoes and clothes for them at the same time. I make promises that “if you aren’t the lucky one this time, I will get you next time.” I was thankful for the $700 I received from the Earned Income Tax Credit last year, as it helped me afford some new school clothes.

There are many things I have to say “no” to, and it hurts so badly because they don’t understand. For example, my oldest son really wanted to go on his school’s ski field trip this year. But in order to afford that, I would not have been able to pay the bills. My boys ask, “Why isn’t there enough money? You work, and you work really hard.” I don’t have a very good answer, other than I don’t get paid enough.

Even with what help I receive, making ends meet is a continual struggle. If the federal minimum wage were raised, it would help me be more self-sufficient and provide for my boys. I know there are many other families out there who feel the same way.

Read more blog posts about this issue and join the conversation on Twitter using #RaiseTheWage.


Comments (7)

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  1. Shawn F says:

    I currently live on Social Security Disability and I know about doing without and struggles. I raised my grown sons as a single parent with no help from their father. I was initially hired at a lawfirm because of my excellent typing skills. I taught myself how to be a paralegal and set out to become the “best” paralegal at the firm. I worked 60-70 hours a week (1) it was required and (2) I could provide for my sons and they could participate in extracurricular activities. I agree the minimum wage is not enough for someone to make a living on; however I noticed that this woman only worked 20-25 hours a week. Why isn’t she working more hours? Perhaps her employer can’t give her more hours but then a second job is in order. I understand she doesn’t want to live on the. “System” so why isn’t she working a standard 40 hours at the least?

  2. Jeff says:

    I make just above minimum wage. But I work 50 hours a week and have an additional job in the spring and summer working a total of 80-90 hours a week. Maybe Alicia should get another part time job or find a better one sell together. Do people really believe they should only have to work 20 hours a week to support multiple children?

  3. AkiliShujaa says:

    Keep on pushing my sista one day soon your breakthru shall be witnessed

  4. Candace says:

    You are soooo right, Jeff. Working 20-25 hours per week doesn’t support one person let alone five! Where is the father(s)? here? That’s who should be helping this woman at least financially. I would LOVE to work ONLY 25 hours per week BUT, I want to make my house payments and provide for my family. I can’t possibly do that working so few hours. Why have so many kids if you can’t afford to take care of them?

  5. Candace says:

    Wow, so far I have tried FOUR different times to write comments that DON’T support Barack Obama and his entitlement programs and this system WILL NOT let me!!

  6. sara d says:

    She can only work when the boys are at school. That must bring her hours down to about 20-25/week depending on how far she has to commute to work.

  7. mike says:

    if she is makign that little she does qualify for free childcare so only working while kids are at school is no excuse. I worked a minimum wage job while raising my 3 kids and going to school part time. I had no help. I did it. Its a matter of living inside your means and being willing to pull that second or third job to do it. I did it for 10 years while doing school, raising kids, and saving to start my business. Maybe instead of hand outs we should require them to attend budgeting lessons.

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