This is a scenario many minimum wageworkers know well. Some work two or three jobs and are still unable to afford basic necessities like health care.
Historically most low-wage workers are people of color, immigrants and women, who are all victimized by racism, sexism, limited access to education and biased hiring and firing policies.
Fortunately though, across the country, unions, community leaders and grassroots organizations are taking the initiative and demanding that the minimum wage be raised. They are fighting for and establishing statewide minimum wage ordinances, demanding that the poorest and hardest working people are treated with dignity and respect.
The federal minimum wage, which is $5.15, hasn't kept pace with inflation. Gas prices have soared, utilities have increased and the overall cost of living has put economic stability out of reach for most working class people.
Minimum wage jobs rarely include benefits like health care, paid vacation time, pension and child care. Most minimum wageworkers pay for these expenses out of their pockets, if at all.
"$5.15 doesn't even come close to supporting a family these days," said Lara Granich, St. Louis Jobs with Justice director. "A minimum wage increase would help a lot of families out of poverty."
The Missouri minimum wage campaign is part of a larger movement, supported by local unions, to pressure Congress and build grassroots momentum for a federal minimum wage increase.
Union support is critical. It has historically been a catalyst for many social programs. Without labor union support, many of the benefits that we have today would not exist, including Social Security and unemployment insurance.
So far, a number of states have increased their minimum wage over the federal $5.15, including Arkansas, West Virginia and Michigan. Eleven others are in the process of fighting for similar legislation.
Increasing the minimum wage state by state is a huge step towards a national minimum wage increase. When enough states acknowledge that the minimum wage is a poverty wage, Congress will have to raise federal standards.
"We don't see this campaign to increase the minimum wage as a living-wage campaign," Granich said about the Missouri struggle. "It is what we know we can accomplish this year. State support is a critical component, but we need to change who is in Congress and the White House before we can make significant changes."
The upcoming mid-term elections are the perfect time to show government leaders that the minimum wage is no wage at all. With enough support, voters may break the Republican stronghold on Congress, shift the political balance of forces and help working-class people get the raise they deserve.
Julia Weaver is a media communications major at Webster University and an intern with the PWW in Missouri/Kansas. This article originally appeared in the People's Weekly World newspaper (www.pww.org).