Stop Being Poor! How Low-Income Earners Can Get Off Minimum Wage

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-08-1338

There was this guy I knew whom I used to play with along with other kids while growing up in my native country. This guy was a pleasant fellow somewhat older than the rest of the neighborhood kids, who one day decided to leave for the United States to make something of his life. He left with high hopes for a decent future and I never saw him again. That was around 30 years ago. Last I heard, he died last year at the young age of 52 after suffering an illness and after working a series of low paying jobs, having lived what probably was a tough life. I felt sad when I heard about this and wondered about how this could’ve happened to him.

In America, around 30 million workers between the ages of 18 and 64 are minimum wage earners or low-income workers. They earn less than $9 an hour in their jobs and most probably earn the minimum wage of $5.85 an hour. That’s all of $12,168 a year, much lower than what is recognized as the 2007 federal poverty limit of $17,170 for a family of three. I’ve thought about this now and again — how do the working poor survive with such earnings especially in areas where the cost of living is through the roof? The truth is that a lot of them work hard; harder in fact than you and I probably do, employed at multiple jobs and toiling through several shifts in a day.

Working Class

I did some research on this subject and found this highly informative site:, that discusses these issues. Following is a list that confirms certain things we already vaguely realize, such as what types of jobs yield the lowest pay. What’s ironic is that the jobs I see here are in my mind some of the hardest to do and while demand for them is high, they don’t require very much skill, initial experience and training to do, so you end up with this kind of pay. My friend who passed away often took security guard and temp positions which are quite representative of the list.

What jobs pay less than $9 per hour?

  • Baggage porters/bellhops
  • Bartenders
  • Cashiers
  • Child-care workers
  • Short order cooks
  • Dishwashers
  • Food preparation workers
  • Home health aides
  • Hospitality (hotel, motel, resort) desk clerks
  • Janitors and cleaners
  • Laundry and drycleaning workers
  • Maids and housekeeping staff
  • Manicurists and pedicurists
  • Meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers
  • Nurses aides
  • Parking lot attendants
  • Retail salespeople
  • Security guards
  • Waiters and waitresses

Source: Find the longer list of occupations here.

Who are in this predicament? They are mostly white, female with limited education and family obligations. Here are more details on who they are:

Demographics for Low-Wage Earners

Low-Wage Workforce
Total Workforce
Percent of Workforce 24 percent 100 percent
Average Hourly Wage (2003) $7.09 $17.15
Female 58 percent 45 percent
Male 42 percent 55 percent
White 58 percent 73 percent
Hispanic 22 percent 11 percent
Black 14 percent 10 percent
Asian/Other 6 percent 6 percent
Less than High School 23 percent 6 percent
High School Grad 37 percent 29 percent
Some College 31 percent 29 percent
College Grad+ 9 percent 36 percent
18-25 37 percent 10 percent
26-35 22 percent 25 percent
36+ 41 percent 65 percent
Services 50 percent 18 percent
Operations 21 percent 24 percent
Clerical 15 percent 16 percent
Managers 12 percent 41 percent
Others 2 percent 1 percent

Source: and

This situation may be hard to escape from, but has a helpful guide that explains how to break from this cycle in their “Low Wage Jobs” page. Note that many of these tips are also applicable to general job seekers.

Stop Being Poor! How To Escape The Minimum Wage Trap

How Others Can Help You

#1 Seek out support from friends and family, if possible.
It doesn’t need to be said that it takes many hands to raise a family. It’s probably also the case that many of those trying to make ends meet are women with dependents. Unfortunately, families in financial binds are typical of those already struggling through difficult dynamics and problematic relationships. So requesting familial support (such as baby-sitting or helping out at home) may be easier said than done. Still, if there is help that can be received from friendly neighbors, generous friends and community centers, then dealing with these challenges need not take place in isolation.

#2 Get free or low cost career counseling.
There are services such as Career One-Stop Centers (at that provide assistance to job seekers for free or very little cost. Here’s where you can find one in your neighborhood.

#3 Find a mentor.
There are mentoring programs that can assist someone who needs some guidance through this life changing process. An example of a mentoring group is Women Unlimited, Inc., “a development program for achievement-oriented women.” It could be tricky to find people to mentor you on your own, but there are employers who are able to provide mentorship and support for those who’ve shown motivation and drive.

#4 Track down helpful employers.
Very good to know that there are progressive employers out there to support folks who are aiming to move up their career path. Who are these companies? Some of those identified are:

Bank of America, CVS, FleetBoston, Home Depot, Kodak, Kraft Foods, Levi Strauss & Company, Marriott International, and Wachovia.

They have specific programs aimed at giving to the community in this manner. It’s a matter of finding out who and where these companies are!

#5 Know how the rest of the world is helping.
Political solutions also exist to help out low-income workers such as increasing the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Unions, campaigns, coalitions and employer education and reform. It’s good to know that our overall society and communities are there to support the needy, but ultimately, it’s in each worker’s hands to control and improve their destiny.

How You Can Help Yourself

#1 Discover, hone and capitalize on your strengths and skills.
This is a must for any job seeker, to be able to utilize skills and strengths honed from past experiences and former jobs. You can parlay your skills into more promising careers.

#2 Network and learn how to market yourself.
I’ve expounded on this quite a bit in the past. But it’s strong advice. Work within your circle of friends, family and community to get the word out about yourself and what you can and would like to do! It’s within one’s control to join events and organizations that help in this regard. Check for a slew of resources on networking.

#3 Get a higher education.
I was actually surprised that the guide provided this advice:

Finding the money and time to pursue education isn’t very realistic for many low wage earners.

Because continuing education is still out-of-reach for so many, this solution — while being an important one — is currently last. Furthering your education will bring you more job opportunities. The hurdle, of course, is how to find the time and money to be able to do so. The best solution may be to find an employer that invests in its employees through a tuition grant or reimbursement plan. Studies show that the earnings of less-educated workers have fallen behind those of more-educated workers.

But I do agree that finding the right type of employer that can help you kill two birds with one stone would be ideal. There are sympathetic employers out there that can both keep workers gainfully employed but can also possibly play a part in assisting their workers to get ahead with brighter futures and careers via sponsored education.

#4 Rethink your priorities.
Sometimes, we get caught in a rut and find it hard to break free from it. That’s when things feel hopeless. But it may take some deep reflection of your priorities in order to formulate a plan to begin changing things in your life. I realize this is a pretty vague and abstract suggestion, but what I’m driving at is that without thought and planning, there will be no action. You want things to change and it may not be a comfortable process, but having a strategy coupled with determination to implement it may eventually get you to a better place.

This may just be scratching the surface here, but I’m hoping it’s a place to start.

Other Resources: Interesting Facts and Confusing Thoughts About The American Poor
Image Credit:

Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber Yount August 13, 2007 at 8:43 am

Great tips! I know how it is to feel trapped in the minimum wage world. Thank God I graduate in the spring!

Minimum Wage August 13, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Great post, and I was especially happy to see education treated in positive and non-condescending way. As a liberal arts grad with a minor in (mainframe-based) CS, I have been blasted by others more times than I care to remember for violating a digerati prime directive: I failed to keep up my CS skills. I had my hands full with rent and student loan payments, and I didn’t even have my own PC until I assembled an XT from cheap parts I bought at a trade show. So I’m kinda touchy about the subject.

Mary August 13, 2007 at 5:08 pm

I’m sorry to hear about your friend. It is hard to feel that you’re on the road to nowhere. I was poor at one point, juggling a number of jobs and it took many years and the help of my mom to get through it. I appreciate her lending me the money so I could get through some tough times. Today I’m a retail store manager after working my way up, but yes it was tough.

Melissa August 13, 2007 at 5:35 pm

As a former worker who made $11,000 the year I turned 33, with two kids in tow (and a single, white female), I have to agree with the article that Education is the single most important thing a person can do to get out of poverty.

I agree about One Stop Career Centers being a great resource for the working poor. They offer training, testing, and, in many cases, money to help one overcome obstacles. They put tires on my car so that I could commute to school.

College isn’t that far out of reach of the poor. I went to a local community college on a Pell Grant. For the approx. $4,500 that Uncle Sam paid out for my schooling (A.S. in Legal Assisting), the government has more than made it back.

Last year, at 40, I made six figures. I paid in WAY more than that $4,500 in taxes for me and for my business partner. I’m on track to do the same this year.

Yeah, going to school was tough. My kids were young teens and their grandparents were amazing about helping me with them. But, going to school was worth it, for me, for my kids and because I’m now contributing to the community instead of making withdrawals.

Patrick August 13, 2007 at 6:47 pm

What an inspirational message. Hopefully you will be able to reach a few people. It does take hard work, but sometimes the work just needs to be focused in a different direction.

Silicon Valley Blogger August 13, 2007 at 7:18 pm

Thank you to those who have shared their stories here. I wanted to impart the message that there is hope no matter how dim things seem to be. Staying clean, keeping focused, nurturing your ambitions, staying positive and channeling your efforts in the right direction by keeping goals alive are what could drive you to a better state. Things won’t change overnight but little by little there should be improvement.

I think of bad situations as temporary hurdles that I work to get out of and so far, I’ve gotten out of each mess, every time.

Minimum Wage August 13, 2007 at 11:12 pm

What about the 9 percent of low-wage workers with degrees? I don’t think more education will help much, plus I can’t afford it and can’t get financial aid.

salve August 13, 2007 at 11:53 pm

hi digerati, i come from a very poor family in Bicol (Philippines). I remember there were times we couldn’t eat three square meals a day. But my mom was diligent. She sent all of her children to school, even if it meant making a sidetrip to a farm so she can gather firewood and some rootcrops. She stayed focused, she nurtured our ambitions, brought us to Church where we, the children learned we had infinite worth. In fact, I didn’t feel poor at all during those days. I actually felt that we were rich, come to think of it. But truth is we hardly bought new things. We had apples only on Christmas Day hahaha. Eventually, this positive environment paid off. We believed in ourselves. I got full scholarship in UP Diliman in Manila, the Philippine’s best university.

Sometimes, people think the poor need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as if they stay poor only because they are lazy. This may be true for some, but not for all. I would never be where I am if some good souls didn’t help me along the way, even lending money to me and my family. We always paid our personal loans on time, and now I make sure these people know how grateful I am!

What a great, interesting life. I am always thankful for it — both good times and tough times. Now, I am a professional writer on financial literacy and when I tell people I know how it feels to be broke, I really do 🙂


Silicon Valley Blogger August 14, 2007 at 12:21 am

@Minimum Wage,
I wrote this article with you in mind. I was hoping there was something here you could take to get you headed in the direction you want to go. You know the saying of course… the one that goes: “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”

It’s wonderful to hear about your family and your mother. If she can make you believe you are rich even though you may not have been, then that’s so awesome. It’s so true that attitude can make all the difference.

Chris August 14, 2007 at 11:20 am

Please realize that some of the jobs on your “less than $9/hour” list ones that garner tips — e.g. waiters, baggage porters, housekeeping staff — and in fact they are purposefully paid less of an “hourly wage” as a result. So the millions of people in positions such as these are actually doing much better; in a lot of cases, they’re doing quite well! For example, a baggage porter at a busy airport is probably effectively pulling in $30 an hour!

plonkee August 14, 2007 at 1:58 pm

As a foreigner with a more left-wing slant than average in the UK, let alone the US, I think that you may need to pay low-income earners more. Our minimum wage is about twice yours (although exchange rate is in our favour and the cost of living is higher here).

Tim Shell August 14, 2007 at 4:51 pm

Minimum wage statistics are here:

It is not most of 30 million low wage workers earning the minimum wage, as you say. It is 1,629,000 people across the country, out of a workforce of about 145 million, or about 1.1% of the total work force.

If you believe nearly 20% of the workforce makes the minimum wage, you’ve been listening to John Edwards. You should know better.

More than half the minimum wage earners are below the age of 25. Nearly two thirds are working part time. Nearly two thirds are in the south or midwest where living expenses are usually lower.

Joe Fier August 14, 2007 at 10:41 pm

Those are some great points stated there.

One thing that I have always practiced while working at a range of jobs is learning while working. This is basically getting paid to learn. Don’t go day in and day out working mindlessly, just to make it through the day. Take the time to analyze how the business is run and understand it. Use bosses as teachers, not enemies. And hey, maybe one day learn enough to move up the ranks or run a company like it!

eric August 15, 2007 at 4:56 am

great information.

however i am starting to look at people who always dreamt of landing in the united states thinking 7 dollars an hour is huge.

in my country, the minimum wage hourly is about 30 pesos. and 7 dollars is equivalent to about 315 pesos per hour.

i think people now should start to look at this: they earn dollar and they spend dollar.

Ted H August 15, 2007 at 7:16 am

“Learn to speak standard English better” should be on the list.

A person is more likely to be hired somewhere if they don’t say things like “ain’t got no” or pronounce “ask” as “axe”.

Especially if you’re looking for a job where you’ll be interfacing with the public.

Learose August 15, 2007 at 8:28 am

Great, interesting article. As a counselor with folks on welfare, I’m familiar with many of the issues you address. Would that some of the students I serve were able to keep a minimum wage job. It seems that issues of socio-economic class, as well as sobriety, time management skills and sundry others impede such efforts. Sure, you can blame the denizens of these social classes for their lack of “middle class” values, but that doesn’t alter the picture. Perhaps, raise the minimum wage, so that the “working poor” are not penalized for their low skills, and accept the permanence of the welfare state. Why fight the tide?

Aaron August 15, 2007 at 10:11 am

Very interesting article. These are certainly some good tips that people can you use to be proactive in their search to get a better wage. They must be proactive and be ahead of the curve so to speak.

Rob in Madrid August 16, 2007 at 8:56 am

One large factor in poverty in America is the rise of the single parent household. this is something that most people are loath to talk about. But the fact is being a single mother is almost always a ticket to poverty. If the Government/Activists want to do anything to reduce poverty getting fathers involved in kids lives would go a long way in.

Jeremy August 17, 2007 at 11:25 pm

I know how it feels to be on minimum wage. In a college town, being a college student, it is hard to not be on minimum wage. There is little demand for workers as they are so abundant, so jobs pay low. That is why I am now trying to find a way to be self employed and make money. I just haven’t figured out a good way yet…

Rose August 19, 2007 at 10:16 pm

I do a lot of “dream job” counseling and consultations and I find that people just want and need a job period! The places that are hiring are the places that have the lower-paying jobs and while it would be nice to have a higher-paying job you still need a job in the meantime.

Also as someone that does grant research I have to tell you that you would be amazed if you knew about the number of different grant programs that are out ther to help people continue their education as well as grant programs to help people that want to start their own business.

It really is a sad state of affairs and I do remember a former coworker who I used to work with saying that she realizes that the only kind of job that she could do would be the (low-paying) job that she has now. How sad (and so untrue!)

Its a good thing that I didn’t adhere to this way of thinking or I wouldn’t have my own business now.

I believe that it’s up to the individual to decide that “enough is enough” and create the kind of life that they want to live!

Jon August 24, 2007 at 7:23 am

So many young, white, female minimum wage workers makes me think of one thing: waitresses not reporting their tips as income.

It would be much more informative to have statistics that exclude people who are “on track” from the “working poor.” Assuming that we HAVE to raise the minimum wage based on numbers that include young waiters and waitresses, high schoolers, retirees working for fun, etc, is not good. That said, I think it’s criminal that waiters don’t share the same minimum wage and instead depend on tips.

Another thing to consider is that raising the minimum wage simply compresses our wage range, meaning that everybody else becomes poorer. Think about what happens to things like rent if suddenly 20% of the population is making a few thousand dollars more. Businesses are greedy. This is why I’m opposed to school vouchers as well. Give everybody $5k that they don’t otherwise have… tuition goes up $5k.

Janine August 29, 2007 at 11:57 am

I do like your article as well. It is indeed hard to find high paying jobs especially for students. So I would like to share some ways to increased your income. There are many ways to get an extra income if you cannot afford to work ‘normal’ full-time hours. Whilst at university, students often think that it will be challenging for them to financially support themselves. This is true only if you decide to avoid work and leave dealing with mounting debts until after you leave university. The truth is, it is not that difficult to get a job. However, getting work does require determination and a bit of legwork. Another way of working whilst studying full-time is through agencies. Another type of job that you can get is in a nightclub. If you are good at writing and have a good academic record, you can also work for different assignment websites, e.g.

On this web site you can sell your past essays, coursework and dissertation and receive money every time it is sold. Papers4u are the only company that actually buys papers from students (through it’s Trade Plan) — no other company will pay you straight away — you will only receive royalties. All you need to do is upload your paper in this site and they will do the rest. As soon as they approved of your paper they will inform you about it and you can choose about mode of payments through Bank Transfer, PayPal, Western Union, or Cheque. So if you need some money and have good essays or coursework – you may consider this service.

leigh morris September 5, 2007 at 8:13 am

my friend is on a low paid job and i want some one to help her out she is really strugling i am worried about her

Annie July 16, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Poverty is never a hindrance to success. If hard work and positive thinking are always put in mind and work, the rest will follow and things will fall in the right places.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Incredible as it sounds, the Census Bureau now reports that around half of Americans are either poor (below the poverty line) or low income. Granted, there is a newly developed poverty measure in use here, but the numbers are still astounding. These are some scary statistics.

Miguel May 6, 2012 at 3:55 am

Well, another way would be to move to Australia! the only way you can get less than $9 an hour is to be sixteen. I have ZERO qualifications and am on $20 an hour. I think our dollar is stronger than USA at the moment too. (I doubt for long) No guns, small population, lots of space…also I heard you guys are afraid of taking long holidays because you fear being fired. We’re basically forced to take breaks so our holiday pay doesn’t add up to the point that when we leave it’s a huge payout. What a crazy point of perspective. In America I would be below the poverty line and probably homeless.

Silicon Valley Blogger May 6, 2012 at 7:38 am

Funny you should say that. We have roots in Australia! It’s a place we have contemplated moving to, but that would be only a possibility sometime in the distant future. I also read that Australia has by far the highest per capita income of any English speaking country. Here are some per capita income figures that I came across:

Australia – $65,477
US – $48,387

Brian Dillan May 27, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I am on disability and on food stamps but now they are taking most of my food stamps away. I have a high cable and internet bill and the internet is the only thing I have to do. I don’t know what to do.

adem October 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Hello people! My name is Adem Dobratiqi from Kosovo. I live in a village close to Prishtina and I am a father of 2 children. I have very low income. We live on 60 euro per month and for my family, that is not enough for us to live. I don’t have money for food. Please please help us to live like other people. My phone number is 00386 4946 8853. Thank you.

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