Friday, July 19, 2013

Minimum wage isn't a living wage

I stopped making minimum wage in 1991, when I was 20 years old. I was working for Donatos pizza at $4.25 per hour as "inside help", a position typically reserved for part-time highschool workers. My car was donated to me by my grandmother, as I couldn't afford a car payment, and she wanted to help me out. I shared an apartment with a friend from a previous job, Steve, and the two of us scraped by, kept our $435/month rent more or less paid on time, ate a lot of pizza at work to curb the grocery bill, and played a lot of Zelda in lieu of entertainment requiring cash.

I look back on that time fondly, but I was close to poverty, and wouldn't have been able to manage without the free car, living in a time where filling a car's gas tank cost just $10, and having a co-conspirator to share expenses with. If I'd have gotten sick, it would have been very problematic for both of us; I had no health insurance at all, and I couldn't afford to miss any work. If my car had broken down, I would have been running back to family for help to get back on my feet.

I was lucky, though, in that the pizza store noticed my quickly improving skills and work ethic, and offered me a position in management. A couple months after that, I leveraged the extra cash that position brought into my own apartment, (Steve ended up moving back to his hometown of Youngstown, settling affairs after his ex-wife died, and trying to build a good life for his son - that story deserves a better treatment, and provided Steve doesn't object, I'd like to tell it from my point of view some day) where I slowly accumulated furniture, a stereo, a set of books I'd been meaning to get to some day, and a modest cash reserve for car repairs, doctor bills and whatnot. The management job came with a 45 hour work week (minimum), a week of vacation, insurance, and a small monthly bonus if the store hit it's "numbers". Most of that is laughable by the standards of a software developer, but at the time I felt like I was living it large.