On the New York Times' parenting blog recently, they have the account of Terran Lyons, a single parent of two living on a fast-food salary.
I’m 24 years old. I’m a single mother. I work at McDonald’s. I make $9.85 an hour. I usually get about 40 hours a week. I like it. I work the night shift, because I’m a hard worker, and they have plenty of workers for the day shift. They need workers at night—good workers.
I have two kids, 3 and 5. When I get off my shift, usually I’d come home, but this morning was a little rushed. My sister watches the kids for me, and she usually watches them here at my house, but right now her fiancé is in the hospital so I had to go there.
Sometimes I get a ride from one of my co-workers, but this morning I was on the bus. That means I have to wait for the buses to start running; that’s almost 6 o’clock...
The problems that face low-wage workers are large and structural, but they're also mundane. She has to ride the bus, so to drop her kids off with child care and then get to her shift is a two-hour commute. She tells a story about realizing she couldn't find her food-stamp card while in line at the grocery store, and having to put all the food back because she couldn't swing just buying it with her own money. The big stuff—not saving for kids' college funds or your own retirement, feeling like you don't have a lot of options when you look out at the world—is demoralizing and painful and scary. But so is the little stuff, every day. Like an endless shitty commute. Figuring out how to watch the kids and also get some sleep for your night shift. Potty-training when your apartment doesn't have a washer/dryer. The embarrassment of not being able to afford groceries like everyone else in line.
Growing up, I used to hear things like, “Oh, you don’t want to end up at McDonald’s.” Like that was the worst. But it’s not. It’s just that the pay is so bad. They only say that because we don’t make any money. It’s a good job. Somebody has to do this job. Those doctors and nurses, they have to eat somewhere; they have to have someone to make their mocha.
When my tax refund comes, I want to get a car, and I want to move to a bigger and better place with a washer-dryer, and I want to buy the kids some things. And me, I want to buy myself some new clothes, and I need socks—I barely have any socks. And I love earrings. I don’t have hardly any of those. I think it would be easier to go to a used place for the car. I don’t want extra bills.
I would love to have a bigger minimum wage. Even that little bit more, if it was $10.10 or whatever, maybe I could afford to buy some food without my card, or something. That was so embarrassing, not even being able to afford some of the food. And fast-food workers get belittled, and it makes me mad. I think people would value us more. It’s a good job and a good industry. We just need to make a little bit more.