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A tale of two minimum wages

Protesters gathered at a rally for minimum wage in New York City.  Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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We hear many sides to the minimum wage debate: The small business owners who are afraid they won’t make payroll if wages go up; the organizer advocating for higher wages for working families; the economist discussing if wages are keeping up with the cost of living.

But what about the people working minimum-wage jobs? 

Marketplace Weekend reached out to farmers, restaurant workers, city employees and other people across the U.S. to find out what it’s like to earn minimum wage, (and not just at a summer job).

We spoke with two young women, both 21, in different parts of the country. Both support young children in one way or another. One earns minimum wage and the other earns close to it.

Tanya Harrell lives in Louisiana, which uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Harrell’s paid a little bit above that, $8 an hour, to work at a McDonald’s.

“I’m mostly supporting [my 3-year-old] child. I will work myself more than I am supposed to be worked, and I stress a little bit more when I can’t, you know, help myself a little bit more. And I’m always helping others. I have a grandmother that I have to take care of, and when she can’t get her medicine, I help her. And I can’t even afford to take care of my two little sisters that are in foster care. And that’s, like, the main reason of why I work so hard … I’m not going to say I like it. At the moment it’s not the best that I can do. But at the moment it’s just that I have to — not settle for it — but I have to deal with certain things. … The first thing I’m going to do is go back to school. When I finish that, it’s like I could defeat any test that comes my way.”

Agadette Solis works at an IHOP in Los Angeles County, where the minimum wage is $10.50 an hour and going up to $12 on July 1st. She studies at the local community college when she can afford to enroll and supports her preschool-age brother and her 9-month-old sister.

“What it’s like to work on a minimum wage is constantly receiving harassment from customers who are belittling you, who don’t think that you can comprehend something simple. A lot of times, management doesn’t take the time to actually make you feel safe. It’s hard. It gets hard, and it’s super frustrating, because I have all these bills to pay. I have, you know, my two siblings to take care of. My main concern is them, regardless if they aren’t my children exactly. I love my job. I love talking to people and to customers, and it’s also hard at the same time. But even just like the little, you know, $1.50 raise … it does make a difference. “


To hear more from Harrell and Solis, click on the audio player above. 

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