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.
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.