People in Muscatine have big hearts. Whenever a need arises, especially during these past fourteen months, the community is always ready to respond. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in all the ways we tackle food insecurity right here in Muscatine County. From various food pantries to programs like Bags of Blessings, we are blessed with a hard-working and compassionate local safety net. From local businesses to non-profits to churches, we come together to make sure no one goes hungry in our own backyard.
Nevertheless, even before the pandemic, I have often heard the question, “What’s going on here? What’s with all the different food giveaways?” It is a valid question with no one simple answer. After all, the need is real.
While the reasons for this level of food insecurity vary, one reality that virtually never gets mentioned is the fact that many families who are facing food insecurity (along with other financial insecurities) are actually working. The problem, however, is that they simply do not make enough income in wages to meet all of their needs (i.e. housing, utilities, food, health care, childcare, clothing, household expenses, transportation, etc.), especially in the event of an emergency. In other words, they are not paid a living-wage.
According to data compiled by the Iowa Policy Project in 2019, the living wage in Muscatine County for a family with two parents working fulltime and two children would be $15.89 per parent. Based on a full-time annual work schedule of 2,080 hours, that would be an annual combined gross income of $66,102. Roughly, that is the living wage it would take for a family of two working parents and two children right here in Muscatine to meet their own needs. In data compiled in 2019 by Iowa Workforce Development, the average hourly wages for many blue-collar and service sector jobs in southeast Iowa fell well short of the living wage threshold: $10.54 for cashiers, $10.22 for fast food workers, $12.84 for home health aides, $9.22 for childcare workers, $13.75 for nursing assistants.
If the federal minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the years, then it would now be $24.18. A living-wage, however, is about more than dollars-and-cents. It is also about recognizing and valuing the worth and dignity of every person and their labor. While we will always need some level of a social safety net, a living-wage is key to allowing anyone who works the possibility of achieving a level of security for themselves and their families.