“This Budget Has No Room For Mistakes, No Room for Emergency”: What Snow Storms Mean For Minimum Wage Workers

February 21, 2014

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball that you weren’t expecting.

After spring-like weather earlier this week, Minnesota is getting hit with yet another in a series of snow storms. Already as of Friday morning, state troopers have responded to 174 car accidents, and schools from Mankato to St. Paul have closed for the day.

For minimum wage workers, snow storms are more than an inconvenience, as our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge participants are experiencing firsthand.

“I’m lucky,” wrote Minneapolis Rep. Frank Hornstein, ”I have a salaried job, so a snow day allows me to still earn an income. Minimum wage earners don’t have that luxury.”

For many low-wage workers, if work is shut down because of a snow storm, or their bus is severely delayed in the snow, that means they’re not getting paid. Snow days and unexpected circumstances mean one less meal to put on the table and one more bill that could go unpaid.

In Greater Minnesota, snow storms often hit low-wage workers even harder. Iron Range Rep. Jason Metsa, a two-year Minimum Wage Challenge participant, found this out last year when he tried to factor a car repair into his minimum wage budget.

“Most people would have a car payment, but luckily I don’t, because my car is a ’99,” he told us. With his insurance payment of $138 a month, he’s left with $32 a month for gas and maintenance.

One spin-out or collision with another car, like the 174 accidents already reported in this current storm, would mean a trip to the shop that would put him deep in the red.

It was sobering, Metsa told us, that he would literally have to take out a loan if he wanted to get home to the Iron Range. “This budget has no room for mistakes, no room for an emergency, and it’s almost an extra job to make sure I’m spending each penny wisely,” Metsa reflected.

Across the country, the stormy winter has thrown states into havoc, exemplified by the disastrous high-profile traffic jams in Atlanta. But what you won’t hear about in the news are the burdens borne by low-wage workers: the server who is fired because her delayed bus didn’t get her to work on time, the Walmart associate who sold her car to make a heating payment, or the thousands of children who skip meals on snow days because school is their only source of hot lunch.

256,000 Minnesotans currently make less than $9.50 an hour. For them, raising the minimum wage is about more than politics; it’s about the opportunity to weather whatever unexpected storm comes their way.

“Minneapolis Public Schools are closed today, people were just informed at 5:30 a.m. of that,” said Rep. Hornstein, “So they are choosing between the job they possibly can’t get to and having to scramble for child care.”

He added: “These are choices no one should have to make.”

Take action: Tell you representatives it’s time to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage.