Most middle-aged moms load their groceries into the car. Rainie Sherr of South Scranton pulls hers home on a $13 toboggan.
She got her first job at a fast food restaurant in 1985. A 16-year-old high school junior, she didn’t care that it paid only minimum wage, then $3.35 per hour. “It was my own money. I didn’t have to ask my mom to go to the mall or movies,” she said.
Twenty-eight years later, Ms. Sherr, 44, and a single mother of two, is once again working for minimum wage, now $7.25. Movies and the mall are the last things on her mind. “Right now I’m scrimping to make sure I have bus fare to get to work,” she said.
The $209 check she received two weeks ago for 36 hours of work is already gone. Her next paycheck will be next to nothing as child care issues and a fall on ice-covered steps forced her to miss four days of work last week. “My next check is only going to be for 7.5 hours,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet.”
It’s a stark reality faced by an increasing number of adults over age 25 who have been forced to turn to low-wage jobs to support their families, economists say. Their plight is one of the driving forces behind the movement to increase the federal minimum wage, which was last increased in 2009.
In 1979, workers age 25 to 64 made up 47.5 percent of the low-wage workforce. That jumped to 59 percent in 2012, according to Center for Economic Policy and Research, a public policy think tank based in Washington. D.C.. The percentage of teenagers in low-wage jobs, meanwhile, dropped from 27.2 percent in 1979 to 12.3 percent in 2012. “Thirty years ago, the minimum wage was mostly people just starting out in the workforce. That’s not true any more,” said attorney Damon Silvers, policy director for the AFL-CIO, a labor union organization that’s lobbied for a minimum wage increase. “There are an awful lot of folks trying to raise families. In many cases they’re middle-age, trying to deal with the consequences of our economic collapse.”