In the Midst of Debate About the Federal Minimum Wage, We Ask Workers What They Think

New York, NY – The debate on minimum wage between workers and business owners has been going on for years. There was a lot of traction for a federal minimum wage increase in the Biden COVID relief package, but the Senate knocked down the proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. We spoke to some former and current minimum wage workers to hear what they think about a fair minimum wage and who deserves to get one. 

One Amazon warehouse worker — who asked to remain anonymous — shares his experience working for the billion dollar online retailer. “I was constantly tired working long hours and weekends for only $15 an hour. People don’t realize how hard it can be to work in those conditions, especially with the pressure to speed along packages for delivery.” In 2018, Amazon pledged to pay all its factory workers $15 an hour. Depending where you live, that still may not be enough to cover living expenses.

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However, the discussion around a livable wage isn’t always so black and white. There is the question if young people — teenagers for instance — need to make a livable wage. Registered nurse Alexandria Rivera used to be a mall employee. “To me if you’re 17 working in the mall you don’t need a living wage,” Rivera said. “But if you have a college degree and you’re starting at a company, yes minimum wage should be a living wage.” She says it depends on the job and where the person is at in their life. 

PhD student Romola Hilerio has worked minimum wage jobs at grocery stores and malls. “We have to stop trying to be equal and focus on being equitable,” says Hilerio. “I know everyone isn’t fortunate enough to be able to go to school and get high paying jobs so those jobs we deem ‘starting jobs’ are sometimes the only ones available to people who need to earn a living wage.” As an 18-year old in a grocery store, she says she was able to save money compared to coworkers who needed to pay bills and other living expenses. 

I have also had my own experience working a minimum wage job. When I first started working as a receptionist for an assisted living home, I was making $11.25 an hour – a little over the minimum wage at the time in New York City. A few months into the job in December 2019, I got a raise when the city raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour. At first, I thought I would get paid more since I was previously making more than the minimum wage. It didn’t work out that way. However, I wasn’t too disappointed. I was making more money and was still living at home. I wasn’t solely responsible to cover all my living expenses. But for someone living paycheck to paycheck in New York City, that is still not enough. 

The need for an increase all comes down to circumstances and location. Someone living in California or New York might have a harder time living on a $15 minimum wage than someone living in Kansas. The need for an increase also comes down to privilege. Yes there is the point that teenagers who are taken care of do not need a livable wage, but what about the teenagers supporting their families? Or the people who need these “starting jobs” to survive? We need to take into consideration everyone’s living situation. Do you believe a nationwide minimum wage is fair for everyone?