|Amie Crawford at the intoduction of the Fair Minimum Wage Act
Before the “snowquester” blew into town, I had the pleasure of attending a press conference on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) introduced on Tuesday. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would gradually raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, increase the minimum cash wage for tipped workers from $2.13 per hour to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage, and index these wages to keep up with inflation.
I was excited to be present for the introduction because I believe this bill is hugely important, especially for women. If you ask me why, I might be inclined to rattle off a few numbers: women are 2/3 of minimum wage workers in the U.S., women are the majority of the workforce in the 10 occupations paying less than $10.10/hour, women working full time, year round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts…the list goes on. But listening to the speakers at yesterday’s event brought home what those numbers mean for real people, whose stories are more powerful than any statistics.
One of those stories was Amie’s. Amie Crawford might not strike you as the typical minimum wage worker: she has a college degree and worked as an interior designer for decades before the recession hit. Amie herself “used to think that minimum wage jobs were for other people…They weren’t me. They had less education, fewer skills. They didn’t work as hard or try as hard.” Then Amie’s life changed—and she acknowledged, “I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
When Amie had to relocate to Chicago for family reasons and couldn’t find a job in her field after months of searching, with her savings running out, she took the job that was available to her: a position at a fast food restaurant paying the minimum wage. In Illinois, the minimum wage is $8.25 per hour, higher than the federal level of $7.25 per hour but still just $16,500 per year for someone working full time – and as Amie explained, full-time hours are hard to come by in the fast food industry. Though she was hired for a “full-time” position, she usually gets far less than 40 hour a week; last month, Amie said, she took home just $788.
Amie described what wages like that mean for her and her colleagues: “The work we do is physically and emotionally demanding, but that's not the hardest part. The hardest part is worrying about money. We worry about paying the rent, having enough food, and buying clothes for our kids. Some of us are homeless. Others work 2 or more jobs …The truth is that in today's economy, anyone can wind up in a minimum wage job. Like me, many minimum wage workers have fallen out of middle class jobs and can't get up.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. As Margot Dorfman – CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and another speaker at the press conference – explained, “Raising the minimum wage puts dollars in the pockets of people who are by necessity most likely to spend them immediately at the grocery store, the childcare provider, the auto-repair shop and other local businesses. Raising the minimum wage boosts the economy from the bottom up, which is exactly what we need to repower our economy and create lasting jobs.” The measures in the Fair Minimum Wage Act would help millions of women and men support their families and help build a better economy for all of us.
As Amie concluded, “the minimum wage needs to be higher, so everyone willing to work can have a roof over their heads, can have food on the table, can take care of their family. And can hope, someday, to even be able to retire." That doesn’t sound like too much to ask. It’s time to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act.
Articles by Topic
Join the New Reproductive Health Campaign
Go to ThisIsPersonal.org to get the facts and tools you need to help protect women's reproductive health.