Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Raising the Minimum Wage: Its Too Late and Not Enough

I was asked to observe a financial education class for women yesterday. The group had invited an HR recruiter from a local communications company to discuss the job search process.

It was impressive to discover how much the participants knew with respect to their rights during an interview. We covered which questions were legal and how to answer the touchy ones. The women the class was being offered to are from abused relationships and were limited to the minimum paid, laborious work. A group that derives from low-income households and lack of formal education.

While several of the women present were familiar with their rights, there were ones not so fortunate. One woman in particular described several instances where prior employees had mistreated her and violated her rights. There were unlawful questions asked during the interview process as well. Another lamented about the endless responsibilities she had. Still another complained about being harassed at work after making an error at a task she had informed her manager she had no knowledge of.

Since they are only qualified for minimum wage jobs, much of their curiosity centered around finding good paying jobs. Women who stay in abusive relationships are forced to because they're unable to financially support themselves. Sometimes that stems from having no formal training or education; other times, they were financially manipulated by a partner who controls the household budget.

These women were brave enough to take their children and escape. Now they're working diligently to rebuild their lives. But it's difficult to accomplish because they can't possibly support children on minimum wage.

A new bill has been introduced to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over a three-year period. After this time, the wage will be indexed for inflation. A noble measure, only it falls short. When adjusting the current minimum wage historically for inflation, it is about two dollars less than where it should be. That explains part of the reason why minimum wage earners are unable to support their households. As the women revealed yesterday, this group of workers are ripe for abuses. I'm unable to research the numbers now since I'm headed for work, but many are denied benefits because they're not aware they are entitled to them.

The women I sat with yesterday can't afford to wait three years to support their families. They're fighting for their survival. More needs to be done to help them and the scores of families living on a single minimum wage income. I'm not sure what the solution is, but that will not stop me from speaking on their behalf.

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