The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 18, 2014

Increasing minimum wage makes a difference

I was a beneficiary of the minimum wage laws.

When I was earning my undergraduate degree from 1972 to 1976, I was earning a minimum wage of $1.75 an hour as a laundry worker. In addition to taking 12-14 hours of college classes, I worked from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week either driving a van that picked up dirty linen from nursing homes — or stuffing that laundry in 400-pound capacity washing machines.

For a year, I was also the assistant manager of an apartment complex, vacuuming hallways on the weekends, getting my apartment rent-free.

My after-tax take home pay 40 years ago was about $75 a week. Not only did my wife, who was a stay-at-home mom, and I live on it, we paid my full tuition, books, and fees; paid off the doctor ($600) and hospital ($600) bills for my daughter’s Caesarean birth, and even had about $1,000 in savings when I graduated.

We took no food stamps, no student grants or loans, and no money from relatives. And while it was at times tempting, we robbed no banks.

Yes, we were very frugal. Our apartments were small, uncarpeted, and un-air conditioned. We drove a $400 used car. The only time we saw the inside of a restaurant was when a relative took us out for supper. There were no cellphone, Internet, or cable bills. But we did not starve, go naked, or feel deprived — at least that I remember. Why?

Apartment rent was $80 a month, including utilities. Groceries ran about $15 a week. Full tuition was $140 a quarter. (Thank you taxpayers of Colorado for subsidizing me.)

In the 1970s a new car could be had for $3000 and house for $10,000. Gas was 30 cents a gallon. We had no health insurance, but could afford to pay for doctor visits and dentist appointments upfront. Chewing gum, candy bars and small bags of potato chips were all about a dime.

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