Editor's Note: This was originally posted as guest commentary on the Detroit Free Press. View the original post here.
I have worked as a tipped server for 15 years and, not counting tips, I still make only $2.65 an hour.
I’m a divorced mother with three kids. I need to put food on the table. I need to put clothes on their backs. I need to make sure they have what they need for school. I want to make sure they can have a successful future.
Because my tips can be sporadic — in some cases I have to wait hours before I get my first table — I have to make sacrifices. Take Christmas for example: When we were a two-income household, Christmas was no problem, but because of my current wage, my kids and I go without. That means no decorations and no presents. We’ve learned to get by.
I take advantage of clothing drives and church food boxes. It fills in the gaps, but it’s not the most prideful thing. My family and I do what we’ve got to do to get by, but I’m tired of it. People like me — those who work hard and play by the rules — shouldn’t have to struggle to afford the basics.
With the weather getting warmer, I’ll need to get new sneakers for my kids and start paying for school field trips. If I were making $10.10, paying that $8 for each of my kids to take a class trip wouldn’t be as daunting.
Those are the little things. But it’s the big things that really scare me. Because I work for such a low wage, I often get scared about situations that could ruin my family financially. A broken bone, a busted engine — there are a lot of situations that could put my family into homelessness.
In a non-minimum wage position, I would probably be making much more than $2.65 an hour as my base pay, I would have benefits, and I wouldn’t have to rely on public assistance. But that’s where I’m at and why I am fighting for a higher minimum wage.
Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for all minimum wage workers — including tipped workers — would be a game-changer for us.
If the wage were raised, I could get off public assistance, and I’m not alone. A study from the Center for American Progress showed that raising the wage would save $205 million in food assistance in Michigan. Workers like me don’t want a handout — we want to earn a decent living.
I could start to save up for my teenage daughter’s college fund and maybe even think about taking some online courses myself. With my current wage, that’s not an option. I can’t afford to save anything right now.
Everything I make I have to spend to keep the lights on and gas in the car. In fact, on days when business is slow and tips are low, I use more money in gas getting to and from work than I make during my shift.
For far too long, I have worked exhausting days on my feet only to wind up taking home less than $7.40 an hour. Michigan’s workers like me deserve better. It’s intimidating to approach your manager and explain that you’re not making enough. Often, workers like me get the runaround and are told, “Do better tomorrow.”
I need a constant source of income so I can plan my budget. I have the same bills every month, but not the same income. Restaurants can be seasonal businesses and my income fluctuates depending on how busy we are. The fall and spring can be busy times because kids are graduating and families are celebrating, but in the dead of winter, business can slow considerably and my income suffers.
For workers like me, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next handful of years will create a sense of economic stability that many of us have never known. We bust our tails waiting tables, stocking shelves and making food for a wage that barely allows us to live from paycheck to paycheck.
It will make a difference in my life and the lives of nearly 1 million Michiganders.