Since crunching numbers is a helpful illustration, let's crunch some numbers.
Federal minimum wage: $7.25
Yearly salary if you're lucky enough to manage 40 hours a week (And trust me--this is not easy. I have been fortunate to make more than minimum wage even though I've worked primarily in food service, but even then, getting more than 35 hours a week has been a struggle, and I haven't even faced health insurance dodging quotas): $15,080 before taxes
That's not so bad. If you don't have a child. And your parents pay your cell phone and car insurance bills. I could live on that. When I wasn't paying rent.
Since I'm using myself as an example now... Assume I'm about as basic as you can get. I have the no frills data package (all of 2gb), so my cell phone bill is under $60/month. My car isn't worth much, so I don't have comprehensive car insurance, and where I live upped the number but then I bundled in my renter's insurance, so that's about $65/month. Rent is $500 and PECO is another $50-$60 on top of that. My student loan payments come to approximately $150/month. And I should pay at least $75 toward my credit card bill. So I'm looking at $900 in bills, if I'm paying the bare minimum for one person. That's not counting savings; gas; necessary extras like my car inspection, renter's insurance, or registration renewal; the cost of taking the El to and from work every day ($3.60/day); or the food, litter, and other items that I have to buy for my cat. And this is all before I get to eat. So let's just multiply that out, and we get $10,800.
Now the number that I was using before was pre-tax. I generally find that if I multiply my gross pay times .8, I get roughly what my actual pay is after federal, state, local, Social Security, and so on have had their way with me (I would like to state, for the record, that I am not opposed to paying taxes, at least not all of them). That leaves me with... $12,064.
Inconveniently, I find that I have $1264 left over with which to take care of everything else. A grand total of $100/month. Remember how I said it costs $3.60 a day for me to get to work? In a year, that works out to $936 by itself. And I don't even have to worry about things like childcare.
Fortunately, this is not my real circumstance. But it does make you want to take a big stick to the backsides of people who think that the minimum wage is perfectly acceptable where it's at.
And do not tell me that people who work those jobs should just get better ones. I do not argue on my own behalf here--I am perfectly capable of not working in a coffee shop if I choose to leverage my degree and access to a variety of resources and talents, but I am also a hot mess, white lower middle class 20-something, and I have the luxury of working as a marginally skilled worker for approximately $10/hour while I hate all of my alternatives.
The options are few and the competition fierce. If English is your second language--forget about it, especially if Spanish is your first. If you are a convicted felon--forget about it, even if it was a minor offense. If you don't have a four year degree--good luck, you might manage if you have other skills, but even being a secretary requires a Bachelor's these days. If you have a name that sounds African-American, you are statistically less likely to get called in for an interview.
I've run out of words, because it's too fucking grim.
^ all by Kate Kilpatrick
Dark Science by Omar Mouallem
Nickel and Dimed in 2016 by Peter van Buren
I need to hear the other side of this story, because if this is the only side there is, then I'm giving up. And regardless of what the other side is, I am opposed to the death penalty: When a Kid Kills His Longtime Abuser, Who's the Victim? by Marc Bookman
And a partial follow-up to that, Christmas Is Still on December 25th by The Atlantic Center for Capital Representation