At the start of the pandemic (before I started working at Progress Virginia), I had to cobble together two part-time jobs with occasional freelance work to survive. My hours from these two jobs combined were equal to a single full-time job. So how could I be making more than twice the minimum wage and still be living paycheck to paycheck?
Well, lots of reasons. But instead of combing through my bank statements and a laundry list of things I regret purchasing, let’s marinate on the fact that at both of my part-time jobs, I was making at least twice as much as the minimum wage, $7.25 per hour. And let’s remember, minimum wage doesn’t even apply to everyone. More on that later.
As a single person with no kids, I was barely making it. I can only imagine how hard/impossible it must be for a single parent trying to raise a family while working a minimum wage job. On minimum wage how can someone meet their basic needs or save for the future? And what happens when unexpected things come up, like medical emergencies or big life changes?
Like a pandemic.
Another thing minimum wage doesn’t address is racial disparities. BIPOC, and especially Black women, earn less on the dollar than white people. Due to our country’s racist past (and present) BIPOC haven’t had the same opportunities to accumulate wealth and are regularly paid lower wages. By increasing the minimum wage, we start to close the racial wage gap.
When I think about those early months of the pandemic––barely a year ago–– those grueling months when I didn’t know how I was going to survive, I feel incredibly lucky. I had a great support system, something a lot of people don’t have. But I also feel angry. Black and Brown communities were hit hardest by the pandemic, and as already marginalized and oppressed people, access to much needed resources can be severely lacking or nonexistent. Then millions of minimum wage workers were deemed essential during the pandemic, but were still paid poverty wages.
It doesn’t make sense. Your job has been declared essential and you’re being asked to risk your life to keep the country functioning, but you’re not valued enough to be paid more than $7.25 an hour? Looking at the relation of race to wages, it’s easy to see how it’s all connected — worker’s rights, economic justice, immigrant rights, everything. Low wage earners are typically Black and Brown people, the same people who make up a large number of immigrants, and the same people most affected by the pandemic.
And remember when I said minimum wage only applies to some of us? We should all be well aware that most servers don’t make minimum wage. So I hope y’all have been tipping on that takeout! Also, during this year’s General Assembly, a bill that would make farmworkers eligible for minimum wage died in the Senate. So when Virginia’s minimum wage increases to $9.50 per hour on May 1, 2021, the people who help put food on our tables won’t be included.
The pandemic showed us a lot of gaps in our system. But now we know what needs to be done to ensure we build a stronger social safety net
- Tell Virginia legislators to stop excluding people from minimum wage.
- Tell our representatives to pass Biden’s infrastructure bill.
- Register to vote! We had some amazing legislative wins this year, and if we want to keep up that momentum, we need legislators who understand us. There are a ton of elections this November, as well as primaries in June. Make sure you’re ready!