Women around the world went on strike last week to demonstrate the critical role women play in the workforce. In the U.S., they’re advocating for labor policies that would benefit women and moms – equal pay protections, paid family and medical leave, affordable childcare options, and, most importantly to me, a realistic minimum wage.
I’ve been in the workforce for over two decades. I have worked my way up through the service industry, and yet in more than 20 years, my pay has only risen by $1.50 an hour, even with a promotion. I’m now a property manager at a storage facility, making a reasonable wage – but up until last fall, I was earning just $9 an hour.
I’m a mother of three, with another baby on the way. When I first started working in the 1990s after my first child was born, I could put him in daycare for about $60 per week. Nowadays, for my five-year-old son, it costs $145 per week. All told, child care for my two young children costs $225 per week during the school year, and closer to $300 in the summer. This is on top of food, rent, utilities, clothing and all the other necessary costs that come with raising children. Thankfully, I’ve been able to obtain daycare vouchers; otherwise I would have to leave my job to look after them. No matter how hard I work or what I do, I could not survive on $9 an hour – let alone on minimum wage – without assistance.
I hope to increase my opportunities in the workforce by obtaining an master’s degree, but I've been stuck pursuing an associate's degree for the past four years. I keep having to delay because I can’t find the time for classes between my work schedule and the demands of motherhood.
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My story is not unique – nearly half of all workers in North Carolina make less than $15 an hour. The cost of living here has grown so much that a family of three needs to earn $21.95 per hour to get by without public assistance. Without a higher minimum wage, we are dooming some 1.3 million North Carolinians to poverty.
The problem is especially acute for working women. As many as 726,000 women would benefit from a minimum wage increase, 127,000 of them single mothers like me.
Moms will do whatever it takes to provide for our children. But at minimum wage, it’s just too hard. I always have to pick up extra shifts on weekends and work odd hours to make ends meet, meaning I get very little quality time with my children.
Moms like me deserve the right to earn a living wage. Anyone who’s willing to work should be able to live. We should be able to afford to feed our children healthy food. We should be able to afford transportation to get to and from work. We should be able to put aside some money for college and retirement. And we should be able to treat our kids every once in a while.
Bethany Dalton is an Asheville mom of three and an active member of MomsRising, a grassroots organization with more than 42,000 members statewide.