Is It Economic Slavery To Make Less Than $15 An Hour?

In a Kansas City Popeyes, Fran Marion, a 37-year old mother of two, works six days a week at $9.50 an hour.

By Ryan Velez

In a Kansas City Popeyes, Fran Marion, a 37-year old mother of two, works six days a week at $9.50 an hour. The hard-working Marion has almost always had a second job along with her 22-year career in fast food, but never was able to save, and when the city condemned the house she rented, she was homeless, despite being gainfully employed. Marion’s story is one of many, and The Guardian recently covered her story and those of others involved in Stand Up Kansas City, a local arm of the Fight for 15 movement.

While working to save for a deposit on a new home, Marion is staying with fellow food worker Bridget Hughes, Hughes' husband, and their four children. Marion’s two children, Ravyn, 15, and Rashad, 14, are now living with a friend, two bus rides away. “Not having a home, honestly, you guys, it makes me feel like I am a failure. Like I have let my kids down,” says Marion. Part of this is the fact that her work has brought her family little security, as is evident by her situation. “My family is not benefiting. I’m working so hard to come home, and still I have to decide whether I am going to put food on the table or am I going to pay the light bill, or pay rent. It makes me feel like a peasant. In a way it’s slavery. It’s economic slavery.”

Stand Up Kansas City is the local chapter of the union-backed Fight for $15 movement, designed to campaign for a nationwide increase in the minimum wage. “It’s not just us, it’s all across America,” says Hughes, who adds that she felt “invisible” before the Fight for $15 movement. The movement has already made headlines, with what was then the largest ever protest by low-wage workers in US history on April 14, 2015.

In Missouri, a state which Donald Trump comfortably won in, this discussion is particularly pertinent, with wages actually being rolled back to lower rates by Missouri’s governor, Eric Greitens. Greitens says that businesses will leave due to the rates, but experts disagree, like David Cooper, senior economic analyst at the Economics Policy Institute.

“We have decades of research on this and it all concludes that increases in the minimum wage have had negligible impact on jobs growth,” he says. The academic debate is currently about whether that impact is a small gain in growth or a small drop. Either way, he says, a small rise in the minimum wage has an outsized impact on low wage workers. A $1 an hour rise from the current minimum of $7.25 would give the average low wage worker $2,000 more a year, says Cooper. “That is a huge injection of income,” he says.

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