How Low-Wage Jobs Cost Everyone Billions

Today, workers in more than 200 American cities and 40 countries are demanding higher pay and better working conditions. It's the latest, and biggest, protest in the Fight for 15 movement. Since late 2012, workers have been organizing with labor groups to push major corporations to increase wages and allow employees to form unions. As people take to the streets, a new report has found that low-wage jobs don't just make life harder for the people in them. Funding the public programs that fill the gaps for poor families end up being expensive for everyone. 

On Monday, the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California at Berkeley released a report on the cost of low-wage jobs, and it includes some staggering numbers. Public assistance for workers who can't make ends meet with low-wage jobs cost more than $150 billion every year. And, in contrast to popular stereotypes, more than half of public assistance goes to working families. The problem isn't just the fast food industry: a quarter of part-time faculty at colleges and universities have to rely on public benefits.

Anquanesha Rodgers is protesting on Wednesday because she struggles every day with the problems the Berkeley report describes. Rodgers, 23, is a single mother who has worked at a McDonald’s at Tampa General Hospital for three years and joined her first Fight for 15 protest in December. Not only does she make only $8.30 an hour — she started at $7.25 — but she struggles to get enough hours to afford basic necessities for herself and her one-year-old son.

Rodgers takes two buses to and from work, and while she would like to start school in the summer, it might still be impossible. "I have some good days, I have some bad days," Rodgers told Refinery29. "I don't get paid enough, not enough to do what I need to do at the end of the day. It can be very stressful."

Jobs that pay at or near minimum wage have become the fastest-growing section of the American economy, and more and more people are finding themselves with no option but to take service jobs like home health care and retail. As Ken Jacobs, one of the Berkeley report’s authors, said in a statement, “Raising wages would lift working families out of poverty and allow all levels of government to better target how our tax dollars are used.”

Rodgers also said that without daycare assistance and food stamps, things would be even more dire. "If I didn't have daycare, I don't think that I would be working because I don't think I would be able to find anyone to watch [my son]...I don't even make enough money to get my own apartment. If I can do that and then don't make enough money, I'd have to go back to where I started from or be homeless."

Some cities have already taken matters into their own hands and raised the minimum wage to $15. In Seattle, not only did the city approve a $15 minimum wage, but one business owner decided to raise the minimum salary for all of his employees to $70,000 a year. And, public pressure has been working — Walmart, Target, and McDonald's have all announced that they will be raising wages, though protesters say those efforts (often limited in scope) should mark the beginning, not the end, of major changes.

Rodgers said she doesn't fear retaliation for joining the movement, but she also said that she did not expect her coworkers to join her at protests on Wednesday. Despite what critics might say, she plans to keep working and protesting. "That's one of the reasons I'm still in this movement. They're saying it doesn't matter, I'm doing this for me and my son."
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