The Call-In: Minimum Wage
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
This is the Call-In.
(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR")
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And today we're looking at minimum wage - the jobs that pay people the bare legal minimum.
JO JO: Hi my name is Jo Jo (ph).
MICAH CLARK: Yeah, my name is Micah Clark (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm from Cabot, Ark.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I live in Iowa City, Iowa.
JO JO: I work four different jobs.
CLARK: I've also worked 7.25 an hour at a Little Caesar's, where they work you half to death.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We struggled to get by. We could not afford the cars we need. And we couldn't afford, you know, all the food.
CLARK: It makes you beyond tired because you work down to the bone. And you do it day in and day out all week.
JO JO: It doesn't always make ends meet, but it usually does.
CLARK: That's my thoughts. Thank you.
JO JO: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We heard from Christy Faymonville this week. She lives in Green Bay, Wis. - a single mom with two kids. One's in the Navy, graduated and was valedictorian of her class. The others, still in high school. Christy is a teacher. She teaches math. But it doesn't pay enough. And like almost everyone who called in, she told us a story of multiple jobs.
CHRISTY FAYMONVILLE: I work retail part-time. I waitress on the weekends. And I also tutor during the week. And during spring, I coach.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The day she spoke with us, she was also a little hoarse from cheering at a high school football game, where she was also working security. Christy's life is packed.
FAYMONVILLE: I wake up around 5:45. Then I'll go to school. And I'll get out of there at 3:45. And then from there, I usually have my retail job, which starts at 5 but really, really great boss. And sometimes if I have a meeting with kids as an advisor for different clubs, I'll say, hey, I can't get there till 5:15 or 5:30, and that's OK. And then I'll work till about 9, 9:30 and then come home and see if the kids need help with homework or what laundry needs to get done kind of thing. But my children are very helpful and very independent. So they know what it's like. They've been living like this for years so.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When do you get time to spend time with them? I mean, do you?
FAYMONVILLE: A little bit in the morning. So there's that crossover. Hey, make sure you're up. And we chit chat a little bit. I'm very thankful for texting and Facebook. I make sure that I'm not working every night Monday through Thursday. I'm very involved in their schools, so sometimes I might have a meeting. So I might work two nights a week for the retail and both Saturday and Sunday.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me a little bit about the jobs that you have. Who else is in those jobs with you?
FAYMONVILLE: Well, I guess I'd like to preface with, I'm not the only teacher, by any means. Most police officers I know and most teachers I know do have some sort of second income. And it's not for a means of luxury. It's for the needs. If they have children - and, you know, if you do want to have a house or you do want to have a vehicle, it takes a lot of extra work. So I just want to make sure I preface that. And I'm by no means the only one out here that is like that.
There are some retirees for the retail job, but other ones - college students. There is a nurse. There is another woman that is in the reserve military, and that is one of her jobs. Couple of them are kind of stay-home moms and just kind of want to get out of the house for a few hours.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you able to save?
FAYMONVILLE: As far as a savings account, no. But I do have money taken out every paycheck towards retirement. But by no means is it a large nest egg. I'm not one of those that could walk away tomorrow and say, OK, I'll be alright.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what would happen in an emergency if something happened, an unexpected cost? Do you have money on reserve?
FAYMONVILLE: I don't. It would be a call to Mom, or it'd be call to the other grandparents.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think the minimum wage should be, especially for people who are trying to live on it?
FAYMONVILLE: That's a tough question because if you do raise the minimum wage - I don't know what that number X is. But once you reach that number X, it actually hurts the economy. So it's almost a catch-22 question. I would like to think that if I'm able to work 80 hours a week, then other people are too.
And if you are making minimum wage, are you doing everything you can? Do you really need a phone that costs a hundred dollars a month? I have a $20 slide phone because I don't want to pay that 50 to 70 dollars a month for a smartphone. That's something that we don't have in our house except, of course, my daughter who paid for her own. But I do think, however, that we need to train people better, so they're not stuck in that minimum wage job.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you want people to know about working so many different jobs and having to work so many hours?
FAYMONVILLE: That it's very tough. And I really wish I didn't have to. I would love to be able to wake up, go to work, come home and hang out and, you know, relax like so many other people do. But I'm not the only one. And a lot of people are doing it. And I think that compassion and empathy will go a long way when working with people who have to work all these jobs.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Christy Faymonville from Green Bay, Wis.
Noam Scheiber covers the economy for The New York Times. We asked him to give us a picture of what minimum and low-wage jobs look like in this country. And he said it was a lot of what we'd think - fast food, retail. But it's also home health aides who work with people who can't care for themselves. I asked him what we know about what happens when you raise the minimum wage. There's a fierce argument across the political spectrum and conflicting data.
NOAM SCHEIBER: Right now, we are just conducting this large-scale economic and social experiment because some cities have and states have raised the minimum wage or have signed legislation that will raise it in the coming years. So that's really what we're waiting to see.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it basically depends on where you live, for example, on what the possible effects might be? It's not just a one-size-fit-all issue.
SCHEIBER: Very much, very much. Depends on what the kind of wage structure of your city is. And if the median wage - the wage of a typical worker in your city - is very high, then those cities can typically absorb a high minimum wage. So Seattle, New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., which enacted its own $15 an hour minimum wage increase - all those cities, economists believe, are perfectly capable of withstanding a very high minimum wage, even as high as $15 an hour. But if you go to Binghamton, New York, or, you know, places in the Inland Empire in California where people don't make that much, then suddenly there is a concern that the cities will not be able to withstand that a high a minimum wage.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The woman we spoke to - her name is Christy. She's a teacher. And she uses the minimum wage jobs to fill in the cracks. And she mentions she knows lots of teachers, police officers and other people who have sort of a main job that doesn't pay enough who also do that, not for luxuries, but maybe to have a second car or to pay their mortgage. Do you get a sense that her story is common?
SCHEIBER: Very common. It's been a historical trend since the 2008-09 recession and financial crisis. And I think it really helps fuel the growth of the so-called gig economy. We see a lot of people driving for Uber or doing odd jobs on TaskRabbit. And a lot of what's happening on those platforms is people either supplementing steady jobs that they have and just don't quite pay the bills or stitching together a bunch of different gigs so that they add up to a livelihood.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you solve the problem of keeping the economy going while paying workers a living wage? That seems to be the crux of the debate.
SCHEIBER: It's an incredibly complicated and vexing question. To simplify massively, you sort of have two views of low-paid work. One is that it's really not sustainable for someone, particularly someone with a family who lives in a city with any kind of expenses, to get by on the minimum wage in most places. The other view is that low-wage employment is kind of an apprenticeship. It's kind of a temporary stop on the way to bigger and better things.
You often hear of people who are critics of the minimum wage point out that a lot of teenagers work minimum wage jobs. I think those claims have been overstated. But clearly, some teenagers work these jobs and people while they're in school and in college. And so the idea is, well, we shouldn't overregulate these jobs. We shouldn't try to raise wages too high because people rely on them. Again, it's - at the highest level, it's really a debate about how we see employment and particularly low-wage employment.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: New York Times reporter Noam Scheiber, thank you so much.
SCHEIBER: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Next week on the Call-In, yet another major study has challenged what we know about a healthy diet or what we think we know - calling carbs, not fat, the real killer. But it's only the latest in the war of the healthy diets. What are your questions about what we eat and what's actually healthy? What are you eating? Call in at 202-216-9217. Be sure to include your full name, contact info, and where you're from. That number again 202-216-9217. And we may use your question on the air.
(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.