Each week, the Templetons spend about $250 on groceries. Food costs put the biggest strain on their budget, and some weeks, they have to rely on state assistance.
"I've been forced to go to the food pantry, and it makes me want to climb into a hole and cry," Mary says. "I have to keep my tears to myself because I can't let the children see that I'm worried."
Financial struggles also weigh on Brian, the family's sole breadwinner. "Sometimes I do feel like a failure," he says. "It makes me want to get in the car and start driving and never go back."
With no savings, Brian and Mary know that if they suffer a setback, they could end up on the streets like Betty and Kelly. "Each and every day on minimum wage, you have this sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are this close from being on the streets," Mary says. "It's constant stress and constant worry. It never lets up."
Beth Shulman is the former vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and author of the book The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans. She says that as a nation, we can start making different choices that ensure the American dream is a reality for everyone.
First, citizens should urge Congress and the Senate to approve an increase in the federal minimum wage, Beth says. Some states—such as Illinois, Florida, Hawaii and California—have already passed laws to raise their minimum wage above the federal rate of $5.15.
Second, employers should ensure that every American has health insurance, Beth says. She also points out that 75 percent of all low-wage workers do not get any paid vacation or sick days per year. "They have to choose between taking care of a sick child … and losing their job," she says.
Most people think low-wage workers are teenagers or high-school dropouts…but that's not the case, Beth says. "They're adults like the rest of us trying to take care of their families," Beth says. "Most have a high school degree—many have college degrees. It's every mom and dad in America."
Another misconception is that low-wage workers are "lazy." While Morgan and Alex were living on minimum wage for 30 Days, they experienced just the opposite. "I worked harder bussing tables than at any desk job I ever had," Alex says.
James, an administrative assistant who makes $9 an hour, says that because he makes more than minimum wage, people think it is a lot of money…but it's not. He's even considered getting a second job, but he doesn't have any paid days off to go look for additional employment.
The future doesn't have to be bleak for James and the 30 million Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, Beth tells Oprah.
"We can make choices about what kind of America we want," she says. "We need to ensure people have a living wage and health benefits and time off to be with their families."
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