For Some Teenagers, A Higher Minimum Wage Would Mean Far More Than A Bigger Paycheck

May 28, 2019

At $7.25, New Hampshire has the lowest minimum wage in New England. The next lowest is Connecticut at $10.10 per hour.

This year, New Hampshire legislators are taking a serious look at raising the wage - up to $12 per hour.

And as they do, NHPR is talking with people who would be impacted by that change, including one group not often represented in political debates: teenagers.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage often argue that most of the people earning it are teenagers, and because they’re usually not supporting themselves or a family, it wouldn't make a huge difference to them.

That may be true for some teenagers, but not for all of them.

When 24-year-old Alissandra Murray was a teenager, a higher wage would have meant more than just a few extra bucks for outings with friends.

"I grew up in a very conservative household and until I was 18 I wasn't allowed to work outside of the house and I was raised to believe that women weren't supposed to at all," says Murray.

Her parents didn’t believe women should attend college, but Murray had other plans for her life, and those plans required work.

When she was 18, she got her parents’ permission to find a job, which she did, at American Eagle, a clothing store. She made $9 an hour. But even with this little bit of freedom, she still felt stuck.

Her parents didn't believe women should attend college, but Murray had other plans for her life, and those plans required work.

"Because I couldn't prove to landlords that I could pay rent because my income was so low and so I just had to stand like a really unhappy and unhealthy environment," she said.

After three more years with her parents, Murray saved up enough to slip into an apartment on someone else’s lease. She started a new job making $9.50 an hour that went up to ten as she began working full time.

To save money, she ate peanut butter and jelly and ramen, and even slept in her car to avoid the 40 mile round trip to work. But even as her pay and responsibilities increased, she still struggled to make ends meet.

"It's really scary. It's really depressing. It's really dehumanizing. like you just feel like a failure, and you feel like there’s no point in trying. It’s taken me so many years to get to this point, and I’m still struggling," she said.

Murray says part of why she tells her to make it clear that life is hard on a low income - even when it’s higher than the minimum wage. But she has now structured her life in a way that helps her advance.

She enrolled at SNHU, where she’s studying communications and political science. She hopes to get her masters’ in library science. She now works 35 hours a week at two libraries, in Derry and Hanover, New Hampshire.

"I love working in a library. I love being able to provide information and all sorts of different people go to libraries and I just love learning about communities and getting to be a part of them," she says.

Murray says she’s a lot happier, but the math is daunting. There’s tuition, rent, gas, groceries, car payments, medical expenses, phone bills. And she’s bringing in less than $2,000 a month after taxes.

"I just don't want to have any debt," she says. "I don't know if I'll ever make enough to own a house, but I would just like to not worry and when I have to refill my prescription every month I would like to not worry. When my car needs to be fixed like right now everything is this big meltdown because I don't know how I'm going to take care of it."

She says taking care of things means making far more than the $12 bucks an hour minimum the legislature is considering, but she says it’s a good start.