A Minimum Wage Holiday(Thanksgiving)

For many residents, the biggest example of wealth comes from their own family.

Jessica Coleman, 34, Oklahoma City, is a mother of three. She said being impoverished makes the holidays difficult.

“Honestly with our income you can’t really prepare,” Coleman said. “You can get a list together of things you know you will need and try your best to get the smaller things ahead of time but usually you have to wait until you have the money to get the things you need.”

She said she searches for places that give away turkey such as the Food Bank. Coleman’s shopping list isn’t extravagant; instead she focuses on the essentials. 

Jessica Coleman and her two daughters. Photo by Jessica Coleman.
Jessica Coleman and her two daughters. Photo by Jessica Coleman.

Coleman left her job at Buy For Less for another full time job. She believed she should get a higher wage.

“I have been at Buy For Less three years, no raise, and when I tried to move to other departments to learn something new I was denied every time,” she said.

Coleman now works at a medical clinic that provides services for the poor.

Silverio Botello, 24, Oklahoma City, said he doesn’t struggle to pay for his holiday meals because he, like Coleman, budgets.

“I plan out my expenses,” he said. “This week we buy certain things that we will make and then get the rest, the next, and so on.”

Botello said his price cap for a turkey is $20. Along with side dishes, he said Thanksgiving dinner for him and his two roommates will be about $45.

“I work two jobs. One is fast food the other is a server and as a server sometimes,” he said.

Botello would like to get paid more to cover his holiday expenses. He thinks raising the minimum wage could be beneficial for Oklahomans.

“For the stuff people have to deal with working crappy jobs,” he said. “Corporate can afford to pay better.”

University of Oklahoma Economics Department Chair Gary Hoover said raising the minimum wage could be done in three ways.

“It depends on who you’re asking,” he said. “Employers would say ‘if I have to pay my workers more that means I hire few workers and therefore unemployment will go up,’ but on the other side workers will say ‘if you raise my wages I will be able to go to the store where i’m employed to buy the products you’re producing so there will be more workers’.”

Hoover said corporations could redistribute their income to increase the pay for employees.

The National Conference of State Legislators recorded 19 states, including neighboring states Arkansas and Colorado, that have raised their minimum wage since January of this year. For Oklahomans to raise the wage it would have to be included on the ballot next November.

“That has worked, but generally we don’t see that happening on the lower end of the wage scale,” Hoover said. “That’s a possibility but when we find that with people who are making significantly more than minimum wage, and generally not at the lowest wage scale; which is where the minimum wage is.”

He said a majority of the time people like Botello would see an increase in pay, but the age range for those on minimum wage has slowly increased over time.

Overall, Hoover believes raising the minimum wage could be beneficial for the economy. “You’re giving people more money they will put back into the economy. If you’re putting more money into fewer people’s hands then we would expect there to be flat growth.”

A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate has dropped about 2 percent in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma as a whole since 2010.

An online project by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Fact Check, indicates “the number of long-term unemployed Americans has dropped by 614,000 under Obama, but it is still 761,000 higher than at the start of the Great Recession.”

Data from the BLS shows the Black and Hispanic American unemployment rate has decreased by 8 percent since 2010.

Although unemployment is down in Oklahoma, Coleman, the former grocery store worker, said there are still problems that must be addressed.

“I feel like companies are not loyal to employees anymore, they have this ‘oh well I can find somebody who I can pay less to do your job’,” she said. “But they don’t realize that they might get someone who cuts corners or who won’t stick with the company the first time they dislike something or a decision.”

Nationally, in 2016 the United States Census recorded there were 40.6 million people living in poverty, 2.5 million fewer than in 2015. In Oklahoma, the National Center for Children in Poverty recorded of the 473,852 families like Coleman’s 49 percent, of Oklahoma children are impoverished.

The Census Bureau also recorded Oklahoma as one of the most impoverished states in America. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the 39th poorest state, ranking the first as Maryland.

Coleman said despite her low income she and her family have each-other through the holidays. Botello said he and his roommates pull together to make a memorable season as well.

“This year between the three of us we will be contributing to the dinner and we will be having something pretty big and fabulous,” he said.

Botello said in the past more people would visit for dinner at all times of the night. “Growing up it was traditional to have Thanksgiving in our homes and then we’d take turns visiting our cousins and brothers and sisters for a little taste of their Thanksgiving dinner,” he said.

Although Botello’s family traditions “feel long gone,” Coleman’s are still alive. To ease the stress of preparing food, she invites friends and family over.

“It’s good to link up with other people to do dinner so you don’t have to get everything yourself,” she said. “It also helps with the stress of preparing everything yourself. Most people I would share with would be considered family, so it doesn’t bother me any.”

With Thanksgiving sorted out, Coleman is aware of the sleeping giant just around the corner.

“I don’t even want to think about Christmas, you want to at least be able to get your kids one thing they really want but it’s hard,” she said. “That’s the one that gets you.”

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