Raise the Minimum Wage to a Family-Supporting Living Wage

In America we hear a lot about the value of work. We’re told the American dream is achievable if you work hard, if you put in the time.

I’ve been a hard-working member of the American workforce for more than 46 years. In my experience the “value of work” doesn’t amount to much for people like me, because what we all get paid is based on a system that has nothing to do with how hard you try or the hours you put in. The rich get richer profiting off the work of low-wage workers like me, and I’m tired of it.

I’ve worked in fast-food for years, and now I have a job at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where I get paid $13 per hour. Despite the years I put in working 40, 50, 60-hour weeks, I have never once had financial security. My landlord just raised my rent, and I am facing a potential eviction. I’m not alone—millions of essential workers like me are just one rent hike, hospital visit, or some other unforeseen cost away from complete disaster.

We are the people interfacing directly with customers, and it’s our work that provides the foundation for our employers’ profits.

We are the people interfacing directly with customers, and it’s our work that provides the foundation for our employers’ profits. We take orders, flip burgers, swipe credit cards, sacrifice our health to provide endless service with a smile because we know that missing one day of work could have serious consequences. We came to work every day during a global pandemic and risked our lives for our jobs, dealing with angry customers refusing to wear masks and greedy managers who would sooner let us die than lose a dollar.

It’s plain for anyone to see that our work is hard, and we’re out here doing it. So why is it that only the executives at the top are benefiting while we struggle to survive? Where is our American dream?

It’s not right, and it’s time for our elected officials to step up and commit to ending the cycle. Eleven years ago, 200 fast-food workers went on strike to demand $15 per hour and a voice on the job, and since then, I have stood alongside them in the Fight for $15 and a Union because we know we deserve better.

Every working person deserves a living wage that can support a family.

Every working person deserves a living wage that can support a family. With the federal minimum wage still at $7.25 per hour, we’re nowhere near that reality. Our work isn’t done!

We fought hard and won raises for tens of millions of workers over the last decade, but we still have a ways to go, especially for Black, brown, and immigrant workers and especially in the South. Still today, nearly 50% of Black workers nationwide earn less than $15 per hour. I repeat: Our work isn’t done!

In the South and Midwest, millions of workers live in states where the minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour. We’re struggling under an economy that corporations and racist politicians rigged against us from the start—and for our brothers and sisters in the South, the legacy of racist Jim Crow continues to this day. I repeat: Our work isn’t done!

Corporations like McDonald’s, where I used to work, are always bragging about raising wages to $10, $12, even $15 per hour, but this is peanuts compared with the profits they’re making—or compared with the effort they expend lobbying against laws that would hold them accountable for not supporting their workers.

It’s time for a major shift. We need to rewrite the rules, starting with raising the minimum wage so that every working person, no matter who they are or where they live, can afford to get by. Raising the minimum wage to even $15 per hour would have an enormous impact on the racial and gender inequality we’re seeing around the country, as 23 percent of workers who would benefit are Black or Latina women.

We’re not asking to be millionaires. We’re just asking to get paid fairly for the work we do so we can have food and shelter, so we can get to work safely, so we can put our kids through school, so we can afford to take sick days and maybe even a vacation. We’re asking for basic human rights, and we won’t stop until corporations and our elected representatives hear us.

Frances Holmes is a Food Worker at Busch Stadium in St. Louis Missouri.

Read essays from workers and advocates whose direct experience with the FLSA’s shortcomings offers a starting point for discussion and action to change it:

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