By Amanda Litvinov
Most days, Edith Kimball is up before the sun. She is a hard-working mother of three, and with her husband away for four- to six-week stretches as a trucker, she is often on her own.
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Kimball works in food service at Lee Elementary in Lee, Florida, the school two of her children attend. After her older son boards the bus that will take him to another school that offers special education services, she heads to the school cafeteria. Alongside her mother, who has worked there more than 25 years, Kimball prepares and serves around 190 lunches, then cleans up and preps the next day’s lunch.
“I really wanted this job when it became available,” said Kimball. “I knew the pay wasn’t great, but it allows me to be home when my kids are. I need to be there to help them with their homework and help them become better students, especially since I have a son with special needs.”
Kimball isn’t one to gripe. But like too many education support professionals, she works full-time and doesn’t earn a living wage. Not only is it hard to pay the bills each month, it’s nearly impossible to put anything away for the future.
If the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour, were raised to $10.10 per hour as proposed in the Minimum Wage Fairness Act introduced last year in Congress, Kimball would take home another $200 each month.
“The biggest difference that would mean for me is I could open a savings account for my kids to go to college or vocational school,” said Kimball. She and her husband could also afford medical insurance, which is currently out of reach. The cost of a comprehensive family plan offered by her district or Florida’s insurance exchange exceeds her current take-home pay.
Kimball knows of many other families who are struggling, especially since the meatpacking plant, one of the few industries in town, shut its doors. Families across the nation are in similar circumstances.
More than a third of minimum wage workers are married, and more than a quarter are parents. That means that more than 21 million children have at least one parent whose pay would increase as a result of the passage of the minimum wage legislation. It would greatly improve the everyday lives of the 16 million children under age 18 who currently live below the official poverty threshold, which is defined as an income of $23,550 for a family of four.
Marianne Flanagan, a Head Start teacher from Des Plaines, Illinois, says she has seen first-hand how many of her students’ parents struggle to get by on minimum wage jobs.
“On home visits I have seen families with literally nothing but a lawn chair and television in their living room,” she says. “These families work hard. They want to see their children have food and clothing just as much as you and I do for our own children.”
“It is a struggle for many of these parents just to get their children to school every day, and to many of them time off from work to attend a parent-teacher conference is a luxury they are not allowed.”
California teacher Mary Ragusa was appalled when para-professionals and support staff at her school were dealt a recent pay cut. “Their wages were already just barely above the poverty level,” she said. “The federal government does nothing about the minimum wage while the 1% get richer! It’s obscene!”
Until Congress acts, education support staff like Kimball are left doing the best they can to take care of their own children after a full day of helping to care for the millions of children who fill our nation’s public schools.
“It’s not easy,” said Kimball, “but with the Lord by my side, I can do it.”