Day 4 of #‎LiveTheWageVA: This has been an entirely humbling experience for me

This is “Live the Wage” week, an effort to highlight what it’s like for working women and men making the minimum wage of $7.25/hour. (Find out more at www.livethewageva.org. or, on Twitter, at #‎LiveTheWageVA.) If the question is whether or not people CAN live on minimum wage, many folks would probably say yes. In fact, 1.2 million American workers live on minimum wage. But it takes a lot of planning, sacrifice, and hard choices to make it work. Sometimes that choice boils down to which bills you will pay this month, how much food you can put on the table, or whether or not you can visit a doctor.

The question is whether or not people SHOULD HAVE TO get by on $7.25/hr. If you are working hard and playing by the rules, you should be making enough to support yourself and your family. No one is guaranteed success in America, but everyone deserves a fair shot to succeed and make enough to pay their bills.

Truth be told, I’ve been there. My family has been there. I don’t have a lot of vivid memories from my early childhood, but one that sticks out for me is from a time that my dad took me to visit my mom at the end of her work shift, cleaning tables at a local McDonalds. She gave me some French fries, and oh my god, they were so tasty! Seeing me happy made her smile, but underneath that smile, was a woman who knew that this wasn’t the American dream. My parents both worked low-wage jobs. My dad also worked in the food industry as a line cook at Skillagalee in Richmond.

My dad ended up taking out a bunch of loans so that he could get a bachelor’s degree, since none of his academic or military background in Vietnam translated to a meaningful job in America. For years, my dad lived and studied in Connecticut, while my mom continued to make things work in Virginia. He graduated and still couldn’t find a job. So they borrowed more money and opened up a restaurant. A successful restaurant. By my fourth grade year, they were able to buy a house in the West End of Alexandria, Virginia. The American dream!

But success came with sacrifice. They worked around the clock, and closed the restaurant between 2 and 4 every day so that they could race home and spend at least some time with my sisters and me as we came home school. Often, they were so tired, they would nap during this break. Who could blame them?

I share this more as a reminder to myself. Because I have forgotten what it’s like to have to be consciously aware of my spending habits. As challenging as this week has been for me, I know that it is nothing compared to the reality for people who are actually living on minimum wage. I get to end my challenge at the end of this week. But my fight for economic and social justice will never end.

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Ralph Northam)