the u.s. unemployment rate is falling and more americans are going back to work; that's the good news.
unfortunately, the new reality of the u.s. job market means that many of those workers are now struggling to get by on reduced or limited incomes. ever try to make ends meet on minimum wage? we reached out to those yahoo! contributor network members who are living on their state's minimum wage to find out just what daily life is like on about $15,000 a year. their stories are below.
learning to thrive on minimum wage
hometown: burlington, wash.
occupation: lab technician
"for a while after college, i taught english in taiwan and was making a substantial income. after returning home to be with my husband, i found that a number of the job opportunities in the area had dried up. the job i was able to find involved a standard 40-hour work week and minimum wage pay. my husband is a full-time student, so getting a job quickly was a necessity for our family.
"luckily for me, the minimum wage in my state is one of the nation's highest. at $9.04 an hour, washingtonians make a significant amount more than the national minimum wage. unfortunately for us, the state also has a much higher cost of living than average as well. after taxes, my monthly take home pay is about $1,272 a month.
"at minimum wage, budgeting is not just a great idea -- it is a necessity. every month i pay $200 toward my student loans and spend an additional $100 on food. to get the most out of my grocery budget, i buy potatoes at a dollar a pound from a nearby farm and we've gotten used to spaghetti nights.
"for a while, my husband and i tried to make ends meet by living in our own apartment. but at $735 a month, our wages just were not cutting it. after looking around for a cheaper place, we moved back in with our old roommates and managed to save $300 on our monthly rent.
"our monthly budget adds up to $670 once you include transportation costs. with the remaining money, i devote some to cheap entertainment options like netflix or hiking trips and the rest toward our emergency fund. sadly, minimum wage living often means that as soon as i gather a decent amount of money in my savings account, my car breaks down or i have to go to the doctor and all of my savings gets washed away.
"life on minimum wage can be difficult, but it does not have to be terrible. i have roommates, wear sweatshirts in the winter and gobble up the cheap carbs, but i still have money left over for savings and for activities i enjoy. the key is to be willing to make the lifestyle choices that make minimum wage a doable income level."
living from paycheck to paycheck
hometown: chicago, ill.
occupation: certified nursing assistant
"the economy is not very kind to those of us who are making minimum wage.
"i work as a home care aide and certified nursing assistant. this job is very unstable and that's due in part to the nature of the field itself. the field is very shaky because the economy has caused a lot of clients to drop services because they simply can't afford to continue getting them. it's hard on me because i have to pick up new clients just to break even and it's not easy when you're working a job that doesn't give you benefits unless you're at 40 hours a week. you're lucky if you're able to even get that many hours and your take-home pay after taxes can be a joke because i've seen checks that are around $300 and realistically that doesn't pay my bills, especially when you're paying rent and utilities.
"my bills normally are about $800 a month. so i am having to sacrifice a lot of things just to make ends meet. sometimes i don't have enough money to buy groceries so i have to buy a few key items like soup, juice, milk, and cereal. i often can't buy the things i like because i don't have enough money after bills to get them.
"the reality is $8.75-$10.00 an hour is not a lot of money and you have to figure out the necessities and go without. it's hard when you have to really tighten the belt on even doing things with friends because you have to choose between paying the bills or going out for an evening on the town. i manage by being sensible about needs and wants, and the things i want have to wait on the things i need like food and clothing. i do go to food pantries to get bundles of food at certain times of the month and even go to the supermarket when they have sales on certain things.
"you can manage in this economy, but it's about being sensible about spending and knowing how to budget wisely. it's ideal to really set a budget and stick to it. you can indulge if the budget allows you to, but it's better to stay on budget and know that you won't be in dire straits when you are dealing with living on a minimum wage salary. it's hard to live from paycheck to paycheck because you don't know if you're going to be working the next minute so it's about buying time. time is the only thing that keeps me working and not facing unemployment, which looms at the back of my mind many days. i just want to stay ahead and not lose what i have worked so hard for."
life at the bottom of the 99%
hometown: denver, colo.
occupation: fast food
"i currently work fast food. to get the job, i dumbed down my resume; i actually didn't even bring it to the interview. i work part-time at $7.64 an hour; i just got a raise when the minimum wage went up on the first of this year. it wasn't much and really didn't improve my net pay. i work 25 hours a week and get paid every other tuesday; that's $300+/- in case you wanted to know.
"my wife and i just had our first child. it is an extra expense, but she is truly welcomed. we are able to get assistance from wic and that covers a lot of the formula we need for our daughter. it doesn't cover the diapers, but they really aren't expensive if you only have to buy one small package. but friends and family help as much as they can and that is welcome; she doesn't go without.
"i quit smoking cigarettes, which is a healthy choice, when it became a choice between either having the smoke or maybe our daughter might not have a diaper. she comes first. we're fortunate that our car doesn't have a payment and we can afford the insurance at $110 a month. our rent is $600 a month and the landlord wants us to move out because we didn't tell them she was pregnant when we moved in. so, that's going to be difficult if the complaint i filed against them doesn't prevail. the fair housing act makes it illegal to discriminate against familial status. if not, we will have to move in a short amount of time.
"we have one cell phone and no home phone and that costs us $35. we don't have internet, we just drive to the local coffee house when we need to check our email.
"i am thankful that i am working; please don't get me wrong. it's just difficult to make ends meet. my paychecks don't last to the next paycheck, but we have learned how to buy what we need in advance. no emergency funds though. it is difficult but i try not to think about it and concentrate on my wife and daughter instead, they truly are angels in my life."