By Amanda Litvinov
When it comes to how our nation’s stagnant minimum wage affects the children who fill our public schools, the statistics are shocking:
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- Nearly one in four children under the age of 18 has at least one parent earning minimum wage.
- 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.
- More than 16 million children live below the official poverty line, which is defined as an income of $23,550 for a family of four. Those families would need more than twice that income to cover basic living expenses (National Center for Children in Poverty).
- The average American household made less in 2012 than it did in 1989.
But facts and figures only go so far. Members of Congress need to hear from educators and parents to understand why they must act on behalf of students from working families to raise the federal minimum wage.
Are your students coming to school hungry? Are your students’ parents forced to work multiple jobs just to put food on the table? Are education support professionals at your school struggling to support their own kids while working full-time to protect and educate others’ children? Are you yourself struggling to live without a living wage?
Tell us how increasing the federal minimum wage could change the equation for you, your students, and your community.
Here’s just a sample of what we’re hearing from educators across the country:
“I teach 11th grade students who read below grade-level in an urban high school. This year, I have a student who comes to school to eat because there is no food at home. I have another student who can’t stay for tutoring because his mom has enough gas money to get her to work and back OR to pick him up from school, but not both. The majority of my students are on free or reduced lunch–they feel the stress and often don’t see a possibility of change in the cycle. When we talked about President Obama’s desire to raise the minimum wage, most of them were ecstatic about what that could mean for them personally and for their families. The optimism was tangible in my classroom.”
–Valerie S., high school teacher, Arkansas
“It is a no brainier. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour raises people out of poverty, decreases food scarcity and allows more children to come to school prepared for learning. It also affords more tax dollars for community schools which rely on community tax dollars.”
–Steven S., educator, California
“As a high school teacher, I know first hand that the situation regarding working teens has changed during my 40 years in schools. Earlier in my career, students worked to have spending money for their personal needs and wants. Over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a great change. The earnings of many of my employed students go toward paying their families’ rent, buying food, and meeting other essentials needs. An increase in the minimum wage would be a modest step in helping struggling working families survive.”
–Lynne S., high school teacher, Indiana
“I see parents working two full-time jobs to make ends meet who are just over the qualifying line for state assistance. This situation sometimes forces my fourth-graders to become caregivers for younger siblings, which comes before their own homework. My students who are having to take on responsibilities of parents do not have much of a chance to succeed. Raising the minimum wage will allow many more parents to be at home more and in turn help my students succeed in my classroom and beyond.”
–Michelle, elementary school teacher, Arkansas
“I am a Head start teacher. Many of our families are in minimum wage jobs and although parents are working full time, they live below the poverty line. On home visits I have seen families with literally nothing but a lawn chair and television in their living room. 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 cannot afford. They want a better life for their children, but most of them will not be able to provide them with the tools they need to succeed on a minimum wage income.”
–Maryanne F., pre-K educator, Illinois
“As a teacher of 34 years, I know how class size affects teaching and learning. I also know what happens to learning when children come to school hungry, live in poverty, both parents are trying to make ends meet working two or three jobs and away from home days and evenings. We owe it to this generation to help them be all they can be. They are our future.”
–Meri O., elementary school teacher, Oregon