After recently graduating from Salisbury University with Summa Cum Laude honors, an abundance of connections with esteemed professors, and a plethora of qualifications in my field, I assumed that I could find a job that would grant me a livable wage. I wasn’t expecting a six-figure salary right out of college, but I surely anticipated that I could get an entry-level position that would allow me to afford rent, food, and gas.
After about a month of job searching online almost four hours every single day, it became clear; all “entry-level” positions in my field that would give me a decent paycheck required two-to-four years of experience. Every cashier position, retail gig, or waitressing job was only going to provide me with a measly $9.00 or less an hour. That kind of income is not survivable by any means.
In 1960, my generations’ grandparents were 20-somethings who could pay their bills, pay rent, and afford vehicles on a minimum wage of $1 an hour. With a federal increase of about six-dollars over the last fifty-eight years, many might assume that our inflation rates are rising steadily alongside our minimum wage. This assumption would be completely inaccurate.
By the end of 2017, the average cost of a new home in Anne Arundel County, where I live, was a staggering $325,000. At the end of 1960, a new home could be purchased for approximately $12,000. Simple math can obviously conclude that a six-dollar raise in our country’s minimum wage has left low wage earners in the dust.
This simple algorithm doesn’t even put the complexities of pursuing higher education into the equation. Jobs that would grant you minimum wage back in the 60s often didn’t require any type of college education. Some didn’t even require a high school diploma. With in-state undergraduate tuition averaging $15,000-$25,000 and bachelor’s degrees becoming the “glorified G.E.D.”, it’s perplexing to think that any millennial would be able to succeed. With master’s degrees becoming the requirement for most higher-level positions and student loans approaching staggeringly high interest rates, a raise in minimum wage seems like the smallest and kindest thing our leaders could do for us.
It’s not only college grads who are getting screwed. In 2016, 40.6 million Americans were living below the poverty line. That means that 12.7% of this country’s population struggled to make ends meet with every paycheck. With poverty adversely affecting communities of color, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community, every section of our state is touched by insufficient income.
Politicians left and right argue that raising the minimum wage will be detrimental to the economy and that it is blatantly unnecessary. Most of them give their speeches wearing $400 suits. I’m just trying to afford a somewhat healthy diet and safely transport myself to and from work every day. Renting an apartment would be great too. But I digress. The American people aren’t asking for much. They deserve politicians who support their simple desires to put food on their tables and clothes on their children’s backs.
That’s why—while I continue to send out resumes—I’m getting to work politically. I’m volunteering for Chrissy Holt for Senate in Maryland District 30 because she supports the Fight For $15. She supports legislation by Senator Rich Madaleno (District 18 - Montgomery County) and Delegate Shelly Hettleman (District 11 - Baltimore County). I also applaud the workers of the State Employees International Union (SEIU) for championing this fight for all of us.
Change happens from the bottom up. It happens when underpaid workers stand up and fight for leadership that supports them. It happens when college graduates work on political campaigns that align with their visions of an America they were told would come true.
Mia Bryant is a filmmaker, writer and a volunteer on Chrissy Holt’s campaign for Maryland Senate, District 30.