By Amanda Litvinov
Edith Kimball works full-time in the cafeteria at Lee Elementary, where her children attend school, and her mother works as the cafeteria manager. It’s the very school she attended as a child.
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It might sound like the stuff of a Norman Rockwell painting, but Kimball drew a fuller and much more somber portrait of life in her rural hometown of Lee, Florida, for members of the Senate Budget Committee, who invited her to testify in Washington, D.C., today.
“Our county is one of the poorest in the state. And jobs have been tough to come by,” she said in her testimony. Kimball was frank about her family’s struggle to make ends meet, and emphasized that the immense financial stress on families like hers would be alleviated if Congress were to raise the minimum wage.
“For me, in my job, that would mean an increase of $200 more a month for my family. It could help me open a college savings plan for my children for their future.”
Kimball was one of two educators invited to testify before the committee, which is seeking to better understand the economic struggles facing working families. She was joined by Courtney Johnson, an Ohio English teacher, wife and mom who said her family is losing its footing in the middle class.
“I worry that I will be laid off in the coming weeks as my district has to find a way to trim $50 million more from our already bare bones budget,” said Johnson, whose husband was recently laid off from his job.
“We cannot even fathom saving for college for our son, as we are still paying for our three degrees between the two of us. We only had one child because the cost of quality child-care was too much.”
“[W]hen folks don’t have good jobs, everything else in our society unravels,” Johnson said.
“If I have to work three low-wage jobs, I don’t have time to help my kids learn to read or do their homework. I can’t send my kid to college. I don’t have time to be an informed voter. I don’t have time to care about anything but paying my bills and making sure my family is fed.”
In the wake of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, one in five children still lives in poverty, which presents immense obstacles to their learning. The average American household made less in 2012 than it did in 1989. That’s why Kimball and Johnson urged the Senators to do what they can to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
The increase would lift would lift 4.6 million people out of poverty, according to research from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
To Kimball and Johnson, it’s a first step in the right direction that would offer hope for so many working Americans.
“It is my prayer that you will think about towns like mine and families like mine when you make major decisions here, said Kimball, in her final statement to the committee. “We should not be forgotten and left by the wayside.”