Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reconsidering the Minimum Wage Debate During My Trip to the Supermarket

Reconsidering the Minimum Wage Debate During My Trip to the Supermarket

After some debate this afternoon, my husband and I decided to make pizza at home this evening for dinner. That required a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up some tomato sauce and a few items for toppings.

Since I was making the trip anyway, I made a list of some basics that we’d need during the week.  My bill came to $109. I bought 3 jars of spaghetti sauce (on sale), a 2-pack of Bounty paper towels, a 16-pound bag of store brand cat food, a package of deli ham, 5 Yoplait yogurt cups (on sale), a 5 pound bag of flour, 2 loaves of bread, a 4 cup package of mozzarella cheese, one head of bib lettuce, plain oatmeal, a box of Chex cereal, asparagus, cabbage, 2 cans of tomato sauce, 7 loose mushrooms, a bottle of ketchup, cottage cheese, ¼ pound bulk mixed nuts, a small package of blackberries, and 2 bags of granola (also on sale).

Granted, I did not buy the least expensive spaghetti sauce on the shelves and I could have, but did not, purchase bulk granola. But I consider nothing on my list extravagant.

Please note this cache of goodies did not include milk, peanut butter, any meat other than the deli ham, beer, wine, pasta, toilet paper, coffee, chips, laundry detergent, dish soap, any frozen foods, eggs, butter or fruit.

The current minimum wages is $7.25/hour. For an 8-hour workday, an individual will earn $58 before taxes.  That means that a minimum wage worker, would have to work more than 2 full days after taxes to be able to buy what I bought at my local supermarket this afternoon. That does not include the transportation to and from the market.  This rate equates to $15,080 annually for someone working steadily for 52 weeks per year – which was my annual salary in 1981 as a trainee claims adjuster in Indianapolis. And I was scraping by then, a single person living in a $225/month apartment without a car payment [thanks to my gloriously free company car, a dark green with cream landau roof 1980 Ford Fairmont.]

The proposed increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would increase the daily wage to $80.80 and an annual income of $21,000.  It would still take a day and a half for that worker to earn enough to buy what was in my cart today, but it is a step in the right direction.  I would rather see somebody work hard for a living wage than sit at home and mooch off the taxpayers. But there is little incentive to work if the opportunities are so bleak.

When I lived in Plano, Texas in the mid 1980’s, high school students refused to work at fast food restaurants for less than $6/hour. And, that was nearly 30 years ago.  We certainly haven’t come far in the past 30 years.

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