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Voices / A Forum for Community Issues | Community Essay

You Can't Support a Family on Minimum Wage

March 28, 1998|JULIE LIE | Julie Lie lives in Long Beach

I understand why many economists are upbeat on the current state of our economy. Housing prices and sales are up, consumer confidence is high and unemployment is low.

But has anyone noticed the alarming trend regarding minimum- and low-wage workers?

I am 35. When I was 16, I got my first job at a small flower shop. Although we had no prior experience at all and did not know the owners, my best friend and I were hired after a brief interview with the owner (based on our honest demeanor and eagerness, I suspect). It seemed that the owner was right to hire us because in just days we became pros at cutting, arranging and selling flowers while maintaining a clean shop.

After the flower shop (closed after a car accidentally plowed it over), I got a job at a sandwich shop and then a gift shop. As with the flower shop, both these establishments employed mostly high school kids and some 20-somethings. Except for the owners and the manager of the gift shop, I do not recall any co-workers who were adults.

These days, however, more and more minimum- and low-wage jobs are held by adults, many of whom are heads of households. Take notice the next time you are in a card shop, department store or fast-food establishment. Have you noticed who has been delivering your newspapers during the past decade? When my brother was 12, he was a paperboy. The pay was pretty low then, and I bet it still is.

As a society, how can we expect these working folks to properly care for their families on $5 to $10 per hour? I suspect that many of them are holding down more than one full-time job. If so, then who is taking care of their kids?

On the flip side, I have heard a growing number of middle- and upper-middle-income parents complain about their high schoolers' lack of desire to have part-time jobs. Is it because these kids do not want to compete with the adults wanting those same jobs? Or could it be that they feel that they should be valued at more than the prevailing minimum wage?

An effort must be made to figure out how these low-paid adults can better provide for their families.

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