Minimum-Wage Hike A Lift For Seniors, Too

Shirley Golliday makes minimum wage working part-time as an office clerk. i i

hide captionShirley Golliday makes minimum wage working part-time as an office clerk for Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp.

Cheryl Corley/NPR
Shirley Golliday makes minimum wage working part-time as an office clerk.

Shirley Golliday makes minimum wage working part-time as an office clerk for Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp.

Cheryl Corley/NPR

In-Depth

Read an overview of the federal minimum wage issue.

About one quarter of the people who work for minimum wage are teenagers. But most of the workers making the minimum are adults, including 63-year-old Shirley Golliday.

Golliday is a part-time office clerk, putting in 20 hours a week at the Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp. She got the job through the National Able Network, which helps seniors re-enter the workforce. She has received minimum wage for the past year — $5.85 an hour.

But that's about to go up. On Thursday, the second phase of a three-step minimum wage increase goes into effect, raising the amount to $6.55 an hour.

"A few years ago, I worked at a local company in Merrilville, [Ind.]," she says. "The gentleman said that he was going to pay me minimum wage and I said, 'No way, I'm not going to work for minimum wage.' Well, at that time that would have been all that I had. I don't think I could have made it on that. But now the minimum wage I make is a good supplement for me."

Calculating Pay

Like many working seniors, Golliday also receives a Social Security check and gets financial help from her children. The pay increase will mean an extra $28 a week for people who work 40 hours. Golliday says that's good news for working seniors, who spend a lot of money on medication.

"Everybody wants to live a fulfilled life," she says. "[They] don't want to be scraping, trying to live from day to day."

Although the new federal minimum wage is $6.55, thousands of workers make less as base pay. Employees who receive tips often receive a much lower base pay, with employers making up the difference if the tips don't reach the equivalent of minimum wage.

On the other hand, more than half the states in the country have higher hourly pay rates than the federal minimum wage. The federal rate supersedes any lower base pay set by a state. Indiana is one of about 10 states that tie their minimum wage to the federal formula.

Opposition From Business

The Indiana Restaurant Association was among the many business groups that argued against raising the minimum wage. Member John Barney says wages should float with supply and demand. He operates four Wendy's restaurants in Indiana and employs more than 100 people, most of whom make more than the minimum wage.

Barney says this 12-percent increase will hurt business even though it comes at a time when it might initially help some low-income workers.

"The person who would be making the minimum wage — with the price of gas and so forth, they need that money," he says. But, he adds, businesses have to consider increasing prices or even cutting staff as labor costs rise and price increases hurt consumers.

Despite the continued controversies over the minimum wage, the $6.55 an hour is now the federal baseline. The new rate means $262 a week for workers, or $13,624 a year. That's still about $8,000 below the federal poverty level for a family of four.

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