Growing up I was always taught that if I put my mind to it, work hard and don’t let myself get distracted I will have a good and happy life. My parents were a living example of that mentality as was the majority of my family. The ones I heard of that were not as well off would be written off as having failed in some way, that they did not put their mind to it, they did not work hard or they let themselves get distracted. It seemed very intuitive and almost common sense to think this way. That was until I joined the workforce and got first-hand experience.
Working a near minimum wage job myself for over two years I quickly discovered that all the hard work I had put into my education, and the hard work I was putting into my job, was only enough because I relied on the stability of my family.
While working that job I was very immediately made aware of the circumstances of others who were earning the same but were not as lucky. In reality, an unseen majority of those “unlucky” exist that the systems we have in place ignores. People earning just above the minimum wage are not capable of building a meaningful future as they once used to. Today it barely affords one the ability to exist.
Even when I managed to break away and acquire myself a job that paid twice the minimum wage, I was still incapable of getting a loan sizable enough to afford a house, live on rent and pay utilities only by co-renting and neglected my physical and mental health to avoid having to pay for medication or taking time away from work due to short staffing and a subconscious subservience to the job that was the only source of income that kept me from starving.
There is no other way around it, if you are working a job that pays around the minimum wage, you’re the hope of building a future is dependent on the charity of friends, family and under-funded NGOs or from opportunities made possible by nepotism, cronyism or simple luck. Relying on charity means that we get inspiring stories of drop-out garage success and then let the statistical majority get left behind on the wayside.
While we have many schemes and benefits for low-income earners to protect them, it comes with it the need to deal with the ever-tiring bureaucracy of our government as well as the stigma and shame of using these benefits. Not to mention that an attempt made at elevating oneself can risk immediately being disconnected from all these benefits at once and make it all the more likely of falling back.
The disconnect here is that people shame low-income jobs and claim that people working these jobs deserve the pay they receive but forget that someone has to work those low-income jobs.
The argument for a ‘Living Wage’ is a simple one. All people should be able to live a free life, and a statewide mandated living wage that can afford you the means to live can free you to choose what you want to do in life regardless of the job you work.
What makes a cashier or a call-agent less deserving than a software developer or a lawyer for a chance at a free life? As it stands, we need people to work those jobs, and those people should be able to pursue a life outside their work.
The solution to how to pay for it should come from the expectations we put on the private companies that abuse our low minimum wage. We should expect those who rule over us for the largest portion of the day to pay us enough that we can enjoy what is left to us after and not be forced to run to another job to make up for these companies’ greed.
Written by: Kassandra Mallia
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