At $7.25, a choice between clothes and food
Jack Thomas was released from federal prison in 2013 after serving a long term for bank robbery. In his 60s and with a criminal record, he had few employment options, but a case manager at the halfway house took him to a restaurant, where he started work as a dishwasher at $7.25 an hour.
"I couldn't buy clothes at $7.25 an hour and eat."
He got his first raise after four months and now has moved up; he's now a baker making $10 an hour. Thomas is grateful for the help, including clothes and food, that he received from the Union Rescue Mission, and he is a regular volunteer there.
"It's impossible," to pay all your bills as a low-wage worker, he said, "And that's a very, very ugly word to have to say."
'Living paycheck to paycheck, penny to penny'
Tasha Farmer moved to Lexington in 2011 from Berea, where she attended high school after growing up in London. She was 22 when her son, Julian, was born. Now a single mother, she works two jobs for a combined 40 to 45 hours a week.
She earns $8.25 an hour in the kids room at a gym. She can bring Julian with her, and that means more time with him and fewer worries about childcare.
Farmer also delivers food for $6.30 an hour plus tips. Still, without the public programs she relies on — food stamps, K-TAP and Medicaid — she says she couldn't make it. "Living paycheck to paycheck, penny to penny, dollar to dollar" is stressful, she says. "A lot of people lose hope."
'They just argue that folks like me don't exist'
Greg Capillo graduated in 2010 from Western Kentucky University with a double major in philosophy and mass communications, and he got a job at a nonprofit. When the funding for the job fell through the next year, he began working in low-wage restaurant jobs.
He sold his car and switched to a bicycle to avoid insurance and repair bills, and he lives in a house where he shares the rent with several others.
"Oftentimes I feel just stuck," he says. He thinks about going to graduate school but is "incredibly nervous" about taking on debt and winding up in the same kind of job he has now. "No one ever argues that it's a living wage, right? They just argue that folks like me and my friends don't exist."
A SPECIAL REPORT
Reward Work: Raise the minimum wageTaxpayers foot the bill for low wages, lack of opportunity
Better pay: better work, lower turnover
What most people don't know about the economics of tips
Local minimum wage increases throughout the nation
Video: Joel Pett Rantz! Minimum wage
Joe Pett on minimum wage, war, CEO pay, climate, college, prisons, money: Aug. 16