What a Higher Minimum Wage Would Mean for Me

by Aisha Thurman on May 5, 2014 · 5 comments

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted as guest commentary on the Detroit Free Press. View the original post here.

Aisha Thurman

I have worked as a tipped server for 15 years and, not counting tips, I still make only $2.65 an hour.

I’m a divorced mother with three kids. I need to put food on the table. I need to put clothes on their backs. I need to make sure they have what they need for school. I want to make sure they can have a successful future.

Because my tips can be sporadic — in some cases I have to wait hours before I get my first table — I have to make sacrifices. Take Christmas for example: When we were a two-income household, Christmas was no problem, but because of my current wage, my kids and I go without. That means no decorations and no presents. We’ve learned to get by.

I take advantage of clothing drives and church food boxes. It fills in the gaps, but it’s not the most prideful thing. My family and I do what we’ve got to do to get by, but I’m tired of it. People like me — those who work hard and play by the rules — shouldn’t have to struggle to afford the basics.

With the weather getting warmer, I’ll need to get new sneakers for my kids and start paying for school field trips. If I were making $10.10, paying that $8 for each of my kids to take a class trip wouldn’t be as daunting.

Those are the little things. But it’s the big things that really scare me. Because I work for such a low wage, I often get scared about situations that could ruin my family financially. A broken bone, a busted engine — there are a lot of situations that could put my family into homelessness.

In a non-minimum wage position, I would probably be making much more than $2.65 an hour as my base pay, I would have benefits, and I wouldn’t have to rely on public assistance. But that’s where I’m at and why I am fighting for a higher minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for all minimum wage workers — including tipped workers — would be a game-changer for us.

If the wage were raised, I could get off public assistance, and I’m not alone. A study from the Center for American Progress showed that raising the wage would save $205 million in food assistance in Michigan. Workers like me don’t want a handout — we want to earn a decent living.

I could start to save up for my teenage daughter’s college fund and maybe even think about taking some online courses myself. With my current wage, that’s not an option. I can’t afford to save anything right now.

Everything I make I have to spend to keep the lights on and gas in the car. In fact, on days when business is slow and tips are low, I use more money in gas getting to and from work than I make during my shift.

For far too long, I have worked exhausting days on my feet only to wind up taking home less than $7.40 an hour. Michigan’s workers like me deserve better. It’s intimidating to approach your manager and explain that you’re not making enough. Often, workers like me get the runaround and are told, “Do better tomorrow.”

I need a constant source of income so I can plan my budget. I have the same bills every month, but not the same income. Restaurants can be seasonal businesses and my income fluctuates depending on how busy we are. The fall and spring can be busy times because kids are graduating and families are celebrating, but in the dead of winter, business can slow considerably and my income suffers.

For workers like me, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next handful of years will create a sense of economic stability that many of us have never known. We bust our tails waiting tables, stocking shelves and making food for a wage that barely allows us to live from paycheck to paycheck.

It will make a difference in my life and the lives of nearly 1 million Michiganders.

Aisha Thurman, 36, of Detroit works as a restaurant server and is part of the Raise Michigan Coalition, which advocates for raising the minimum wage in Michigan.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tammy Bradberry May 9, 2014 at 1:32 am

I agree with our President! Raise the minimum hourly pay. It’s not fair for the children whos parents can’t give them the things they need!

2 Mary Williams May 9, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Provisions can be made for families whose wage earners need others to officially represent them in all areas of their lives and the lives of the family members. We need the $10.10 hike to the minimum wage earners. I am disappointed that the opportunity afforded these workers via a minimum wage raise has been struck down this week by members of House of Representatives. They seem hell bent on reducing or limiting progress of American workers who wants to live better quality of life which is their inalienable rights. This week we see this very important issue voted on to care for people they supposedly were elected to help has been hindered and voted against by people in Congress who have the real “defeatist attitudes”. Wikipedia says the “Defeatism is the acceptance of defeat without struggle.” Well, just last night 5/8, on Politics Nation, MSNBC, it was presented to viewers that a poll which states that 63% of millionaires agree that a raise in minimum wage will benefit the whole nation. And that 69% of “we the people” are in agreement to raise it. People are not defeatist when they struggle working two and sometimes three minimum wage jobs to make ends meet or put food on the table for themselves and their children. This proves that they are the type of workers wanting to be successful citizens in the nation. “Pay a living way that people can be positive for going to work for and invest more in their daily lives and the members of their families,” Goldie Taylor, contributor to MSNBC.
The GOPers who voted against the minimum wage are as pretentious, hollow and pompous in their so call caring about all citizens of this nation as a whole. “I heard three people on three different programs “The Daily Rundown (he called minimum wage desired a defeatist mentality”, “Morning Joe, I don’t believe there should be a national minimum wage”, and “CBS This Morning, I want people to make as much as they can, I don’t think the minimum wage law works” talking nonsense and fallacies by trying to make an argument against raising the minimum wage sound logical. They sounded like blithering idiots talking around the rim of stupidity. They are the ones with the “defeatist mentality” that nothing good can be given to the citizens of USA. Sincerely, Mary Williams one of the 69%ers.

3 Cynthia May 9, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Makes me wonder how much the father is paying in child support for three children. That burden should be shared by the two of them, which this reads as if he is not contributing. And I have to ask, why hasn’t she at least applied for a min. wage job at Wal Mart where she would have a guaranteed wage rather than 2.65 with questionable tips? A college kid I know makes far more than that by serving drinks. Yes, he relies on tips but the lounge world pays him far more. She needs to get another job. And increase her skill set using free online training –even coding can be learned online and then turn around and sell at fiverr or freelancer.

4 Ismail N May 9, 2014 at 9:16 pm

When the minimum wage was first enforced here in Malaysia, some businesses had to let go a couple of their workers because the owners can’t afford to pay more. So those who remained had to do more. I think the restaurant and hospitality businesses had to do lots of adjustment in the beginning.

5 WilliamB May 19, 2014 at 7:56 am

Regarding minimum wage increase to $10.10 – Have you ever thought about the many folks that will be put out of a job if minimum wage goes up? Unemployment will certainly go up. Do you think small businesses will magically have more money to pay their workers? Will the “Wage Fairy” visit them and put money in the bank account? No, they will lay people off because they cannot afford to pay their workers anymore. They will cut back on staff because they have to. Keep in mind, just like your own bank account…just because you want your balance in your account to go up doesn’t mean it will. Just because the “all knowing” government forces small businesses to pay a higher minimum wage does not mean they will have the money to do this. So now we have someone making NOTHING instead of minimum wage. Yeah, that makes sense. Raising the minimum wage will hurt families, raise unemployment, and put a tremendous burden on the small family-owned businesses that are just trying to survive.

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