Friday, February 27, 2015

Minimum in Montana

My previous blog focused on the challenges of what a person living on minimum wage faces.  I'm continuing this theme by examining the issue from our own Montana perspective. It would be great if living wages were higher and people were not forced to exist on the lowest amount possible, but that is simply not reality.

Again, this is not an article advocating for increasing the minimum wage in the United States. There are several people on both sides of the issue who can make sound arguments and I will leave the debate to them. Instead, I am simply going to give some tips on how a person can live on minimum wage because there are thousands of Montanans doing this every day.

A full time minimum wage worker in Montana working will earn $322.00 per week, or $16,744.00 per year. Montana's minimum wage rate as of February, 2015 is $8.05 per hour. So, here you go... Some practical tips dedicated to cutting expenses when every single nickel counts.

1. Find a place to live within walking or biking distance to your job and for less than half of your income. This means a living situation where rent and utilities cost no more than $500 a month. Being able to get to work reliably and for free will contribute significantly to your income stability, both by cutting costs, and by making sure you don't lose hours due to car problems or missed buses.

2. Consider going rural. There are many small towns in Big Sky Country where you can find a room to rent for $100 a month and a small apartment to rent for $200 a month. These areas often have lots of jobs for minimum wage workers – look for an area with lots of "help wanted" signs around these towns and notices inside of town halls and gas stations looking for workers.

3. Spend no more than $200 USD a month on household necessities (food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc). The only way to pull this off is to cook pretty much everything yourself (buy raw ingredients instead of pre-prepared food), or get government assistance. If the store isn't within walking or biking distance, or isn't reachable by public transportation, shop only once a month.

4. Limit leisure spending and learn how to live within yourself means. Perhaps buying clothing at a thrift store can save a great deal of cash. Have discipline and strengthen your character because the more money you can save for a rainy day, the better. Always look for free alternatives. Libraries provide free entertainment in the forms of books, music, and internet access. There are parks, recreational activities, and other things even in the smallest of rural towns. Take advantage of Montana's beauty.

5. Cut cellular and cable costs. Cellular plans usually cost about $30 a month. If you don't use all the minutes in your cell plan, a prepaid or pay-as-you-go phone may save you a lot of money. Or, consider not getting a cell phone at all, if you can function without one. Cable TV often costs at least $20 a month and goes unused. Consider dropping your cable subscription altogether and instead watch TV on free online streaming services. Use the internet in libraries to save money.

6. Save for medical and other emergencies. It is generally difficult to get health insurance through a minimum wage job. These steps leave you with about $170. That's enough for an individual monthly health insurance premium if you're in very good health to begin with, and if you choose a high deductible. But if you have a medical emergency, you'll still have to pay out of pocket until you meet that deductible! This is extremely important because even a small medical emergency can cost a lot of money that you don't have, and make you miss some work.

7. If you're in debt, try to pull the money to pay it off from other categories. Do not use this money for anything other than medical emergencies. That's the only way it'll build up. If there's something else you need (e.g. furniture, appliances) budget for it out of your leisure or food money.

8. Save automatically. Keep some of your money in a checking account sufficient for paying bills, then go to the library and use the internet access there to set up an online automatic savings plan there to withdraw periodically from your main checking.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Reality (Check) of Minimum Wage

Recently, a national fast food chain partnered with a credit card company to make a website dedicated to show its employees how to properly budget salaries. The results were interesting because what it actually showed was that it is nearly impossible to get by on minimum wage.

Sample Monthly Budget for Fast Food Chain
Monthly Net Income
Income (First Job) $1,105
Income (Second Job) $955
Other Income 0
Monthly Net Income Total $2,060

Monthly Expenses
Savings $100
Mortgage/Rent $600
Car Payment $150
Car/Home Insurance $100
Health Insurance $20
Heating 0
Cable/Phone $100
Electric $90
Other $100
Monthly Expenses Total $1,260

Monthly Spending Money $800
(Monthly Net Income Total
minus Monthly Expenses Total)

Daily Spending Money Goal $27
(Monthly Spending Money
divided by 30 days)

At first glance, it might appear the top line was for a part-time employee. After further examination with a calculator, this actually represents what a person would make if they worked full-time at this particular fast food chain: $1,105 dollars a month.

Now let’s say that the “second” job that budgeted in here is also minimum wage. That would mean someone was working about 62 hours a week, on average. Oh, wait... Did I mention this only applied if they live in Illinois, where the minimum wage is $8.25. The national minimum wage is $7.25. That translates to 74 hours a week. That’s almost a whole other full time job.

And what does a person get for working 74 hours a week? Not heat, clearly. In some buildings, there are separate checks for gas and electric. This means mean that the person does not get to heat and cool their home. It also that demonstrates they do not get to heat their water, or cook on their stove, if they have a gas stove.

Also noticeably absent in this budget? Food. And gas. There’s a line for a car payment, but not for gas. This is criminal, because if an individual is working two jobs it’s possible they will pay more for gas than they would pay for their car.

Also… health insurance for $20 a month? There is really no such thing as health insurance for $20 a month if you’re buying your health insurance on your own. I think the least amount is going to be about $215 a month– and that only covers hospital emergencies.

And herein lies the great disconnect. Charts and graphs fail to adequate represent real people. Arguments rage over bottom lines and decimals but the reality of the matter is that too many people are too busy working too many hours for too little money. Creating a feasible and realistic living wage means more than altering the minimum one. It means we take into account the worth of a person and try to provide compensation that allows them to live more than a minimalistic lifestyle.

Information courtesy of

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Homeless and Pregnant

Here is some additional information regarding the challenges facing homeless teens who become pregnant.

Although the teen pregnancy rates continue to decrease, it still remains an issue of great concern. Studies have shown that approximately 850,000 U.S. teenagers became pregnant and nearly 475,000 babies were born to these teens. One population at increased risk is homeless youth; research indicates as many as 20% of homeless young women become pregnant.

These pregnant, homeless teens are at increased risk for low-birth weight babies and high infant-mortality because of inadequate health care, poor dietary habits, and a lack of prenatal care due to their poor economic and social resources. Their problems are exacerbated by a high risk for psychological problems, often as a result of abusive and/or neglectful relationships, victimization, and housing instability. This study investigates predictors of teen pregnancy among a national sample of runaway/homeless youth.

Among youth who experienced pregnancy, 80% were females and 20% were males reporting they had fathered a child. Youth averaged 16 years of age and 90% remained single. Those reporting pregnancy had significantly lower rates of returning home to their parents upon shelter exit as compared to non-pregnant peers.

Studies showed that youth who were older, non-white, had dropped out of school, or reported gang membership, were more likely to be pregnant or have fathered a child. However, those who abused or sold drugs were less likely to report pregnancy. Among family variables, youth who had been emotionally abused by mothers or lived with someone other than parents before shelter admission were significantly more likely to report a pregnancy.

Pregnancy presents a challenge for any teenager; but for runaway/homeless youth, difficulties are amplified. With housing instability, runaway/homeless pregnant teens often seek shelter services; these youth are likely to have multiple difficulties often impossible to address during short-term shelter admissions, such as academic difficulties, parental abuse, and problems associated with gang involvement.

Beyond immediate medical care and basic services, shelter providers must be aware of the various difficulties associated with entry into the shelter system among these highly vulnerable pregnant teens. Discharge from shelter must include attention to housing stability as well as safety for the youth and their child. Over the longer term, findings strongly suggest the need for post-shelter care that provides educational and emotional support to this vulnerable population. In addition, coordination between shelters and teen pregnancy programs appears warranted.

*Thanks to NCH and NHA.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Joanna* enters the urgent care clinic and pauses to survey her surroundings. The waiting room is dimly lit and sparsely populated. The matted carpet has more stories to tell than any library and she's certain there are no magazines within 4 years of the current year.

Her health teeters back and forth between marginal and undernourished. She is five months pregnant and understands she needs to make decisions in the best interest of her child. It is difficult finding a ride from the shelter to her appointments. Everything in her life seems accelerated and wishes time could be reversed and permit her to make different decisions.

Outside, the torrential downpour relents for a few minutes and she watches the water collect in slow-forming drips on the end of her umbrella. Methodically, they bombard the carpet in a steady rhythm as she sits and waits for her name to be called. Raising a child alone will be daunting and her lack of a support network exacerbates an already inflamed situation. As the abuse grew more frequent, she needed to make a choice between being housed and in jeopardy or becoming homeless but safe. One day everything would calm down and she would get her bearings.

But that day had not yet arrived.

Joanna kept a faint smile pursed on her lips and avoided eye contact. And while no one else in the room judged her, she was her own constant critic. She used to believe in fate and destiny and all the trimmings that accompanied a million other sunny dispositions. But as the events of the past 2 weeks unfolded, she wasn't sure about anything, anymore. Her only certainty was the notion that she had little to count on. Her parents told her not to get involved with him and cut her off as soon as she got pregnant. At 19 years old, she felt much older.

All of her possessions were at his place but she knew better than to try and retrieve them. She burned every bridge by sneaking out in the middle of the night. And she knew he was honestly relieved when she left because he wanted all the benefits of a grown up relationship but none of the responsibilities. The abuse began shortly after she presented him with a cigar and the news.

The shelter had family housing and told her she could stay until after the baby was born and Joanna could get back on her feet. But with only a GED, it would prove challenging to find work that could sustain her and the child. And she felt like an absolute failure for bringing a baby into the world, straight to a homeless shelter. The odds were stacked against her but she knew she could still write her own story. And just before her name was called for her checkup, her eyes caught a glimpse of a quote in a tattered and worn out paperback she had been skimming through while she waited:

And for all his life it would be kindness and love that made him cry, never pain or persecution, which on the contrary only reinforced his spirit and his resolution.”

She smiled an authentic grin, closed the book, and then stepped into the rest of her life.

*Not her real name

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Devistating Effects of Stress

We all experience stress. Some of it is legitimate and other times we court it ourselves. Different problems can produce specific levels of stress and fatigue. As adults, we learn (hopefully) to cope and move on. But what about the effects of stress on kids.

Homeless children are confronted with stressful and traumatic events that they often are too young to understand, and this leads to severe emotional distress. Homeless children worry about where they will sleep on a given night, and if they have a place to sleep, they are afraid of losing it. Older children worry about being separated from friends and pets, and they fear that they will be seen as different among new peers at school. Honestly, these are all things that kids should not have to deal with.

They also worry about their families: their parents, whose stress and tension is often shared with the children, and their siblings, for whom they see themselves as primary care givers. More than half of homeless children surveyed also said that they worried about their physical safety, especially with regard to violence, guns, and being injured in a fire. One-quarter of homeless children have witnessed violence in the family. These have lingering affects and, sadly, can seem normal to children. The more they view violence, the easier it becomes to accept.

Homeless children also experience stress through constant change, and these stressful changes accumulate as these children grow older. The average homeless child moves as many as three times in a year. As a kid, I moved but had the loving support of a family and a house to move to. Homeless children are seven times more likely than other children to be placed in foster care. Twenty-two percent of homeless children experience foster care or living with relatives, compared with three percent of housed children. Feelings of abandonment can reside with children long after the grow up. It is difficult to shed the notion that no one wants you.

These conditions manifest themselves in the behavior of homeless children. Often, boys exhibit aggression, while girls exhibit depression and passive or withdrawn behavior. Most often, homeless children can develop extreme indifference at school, and overt anger with their parents. Despite significantly more incidents of mental illness, less than one-third of these children actually receive professional help. In fact, as the severity of the mental illness increases, homeless children are less likely to receive adequate health care. It makes me reevaluate my own situation and what I call stress.

I am not trying to minimize what we all go through because people handle things differently. But the conditions leading to the stress in homeless kids are formidable for any person, let alone children who lack a stable support system. We frequently deal with kids at Samaritan House and helping families is chief among our concerns. If you would be interested in donations items specifically for kids, please feel free. Toys and arts supplies are just two things that are greatly appreciated and can provide a brief respite from a chaotic and stressful life.

Kids should be allowed to be kids.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I am about to break protocol. Usually, these blogs are topical and allow me to roam to and from across literary boundaries and genres. And, while I enjoy the freedom of of picking and choosing standalone issues, I am going to branch out by actually attempting to remain focused. Over the next few weeks, I'm sticking to one topic that is important to all of us at Samaritan House: the effects of homelessness on kids.

Homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life — from birth to young adulthood. The experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioral development of children. The impact of homelessness begins well before a child is born. The overwhelming majority of homeless parents are single women, many of whom were homeless themselves as children. Homeless women face many obstacles to healthy pregnancies, such as chemical abuse, chronic and acute health problems, and lack of prenatal care.

Children born into homelessness are more likely to have low birth weights and are at greater risk of death. Homelessness also exposes infants to environmental factors that can endanger their health. Because homeless families often have little access to health care, many homeless infants lack essential immunizations.

Homeless children begin to demonstrate significant developmental delays after 18 months of age, which are believed to influence later behavioral and emotional problems. Young children who are homeless are often separated from their parents, which can cause long-term negative effects. Homeless preschool age children also are more likely to experience major developmental delays and to suffer from emotional problems. Despite these developmental delays and emotional difficulties, homeless preschoolers receive fewer services than other children their age.

By the time homeless children reach school age, their homelessness affects their social, physical, and academic lives. Homeless children are not simply at risk; most suffer specific physical, psychological, and emotional damage due to the circumstances that accompany episodes of homelessness. In general, homeless children consistently exhibit more health problems than housed poor children. Environmental factors contribute to homeless children’s poor health, and homeless children are at high risk for infectious disease.

Homeless children are at greater risk for asthma and lead poisoning, often with more severe symptoms than housed children. Poor nutrition also contributes to homeless children’s poor health, causing increased rates of stunted growth and anemia. Despite these widespread health problems, homeless children generally lack access to consistent health care, and this lack of care can increase severity of illness.

So, as you can see, homelessness is not something to be outgrown. Kids do not simply graduate from this condition.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Inside Out

I once had a job requiring me to constantly shuttle in and out of the place of my employment. I was only 25 years old and in excellent health and it was seasonal work during the months of late November and December. If you have lived in Kalispell long enough, you understand the weather often changes frequently. Some days the clouds rolled in and the temperature soared into the low 50s while other nights the stars shone brightly and the thermometer never rose above 5 or 5 degrees.

Frequently changing environments between 73 degrees and 10 degrees took a toll on my immune system. I ended up with bronchitis and sinusitis and eventually became too ill to work and missed several days. Ever since this experience, I have had empathy for people who work outside in the elements, especially in Big Sky Country. Working with the homeless, I have also spoken with countless people who have suffered debilitating conditions because they spend a great deal of time living in and outdoors.

Spending large amounts of time outdoors makes homeless people vulnerable a few different issues they bring indoors with them as they transition to shelters or other communal environments. As winter and spring battle for control and temperatures rise, there is an increase in the range and strength of the West Nile Virus, which thrives in warm, dry weather. People who sleep outside are more more likely to be bitten by mosquitoes that carry the virus.

Respiratory conditions are another very common concern amongst the homeless. Emergency room visits and urgent care clinic report rates of lung diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema in the homeless are double that of the general population. A leading factor in some of these instances can be related to frequent changes in living conditions where the person alternates living inside then outside in a short span of time. Air pollution has also been found to disproportionately impact those suffering from cardio-respiratory conditions, those who spend more time outdoors, those with ischemic heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, COPD and asthma.

Inclement weather is another issue impacting the homeless. Approximately 70 million people in the United States are vulnerable to hurricanes and an average of 50–100 people are killed per event. The health impacts of floods and storms include drownings, infectious disease outbreaks, and an increased incidence of anxiety and depression.

Floods and storms, like all natural disasters, disproportionately impact vulnerable populations and the homeless generally occupy marginal areas that are more vulnerable to environmental hazards. The urban homeless are particular at risk from natural disasters, but are often not considered in disaster planning.

I am no longer 25 and know I would not fare well if my circumstances required me to alternate between living indoors and outside. I've become empathetic toward those who live this way. While there is no simple solution to provide easy answers, we continue to work toward the goal of providing shelter so this existence can be eliminated for many.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Some Super Stats

The game is over. Finished. And no matter how you feel about the outcome, I found some interesting facts and figures relating to what transpired across the globe. So in the true spirit of community, here are some interesting tidbits showing how this epic game effects the rest of the world.

151.6 million: Number of people who will watch at least part of the game.
194 million: Approximate number of blades of grass on the football field.

232: Number of countries and territories in which the game will be broadcast.

34: Number of languages the game is broadcast in.

1: Number of languages in which the word "football" doesn't mean "soccer."

8 million: Total pounds of popcorn consumed on Super Bowl Sunday.

28 million: Pounds of potato chips consumed.

53.5 million: Pounds of avocados consumed.

222,792: Number of football fields worth of farmland to grow all that corn, potatoes, and avocados.

11.8: Depth, in feet, of guacamole consumed if it were spread across the football field.

293,000: Number of miles of potato chips, laid end to end, consumed during the game.

1 billion: Number of chicken wings consumed on Super Bowl Sunday.

325.5 million: Gallons of beer drank by Americans that day.

493: Number of Olympic-sized swimming pools that could be filled with all that beer.

20%: Increase in ant-acid sales the Monday after the game.

7 million: Number of employees who will not show up to work Monday.

10,780: Kilograms of Oxygen required to sustain the audience during the game.

4,800: Kilograms of Oxygen produced by the grass on the field during the game.

310,000: Pounds of carbon emissions generated by the Super Bowl.

1,000: Number of NFL defensive linemen to equal that weight.

187,000: Kilowatt/hours of energy estimated to be spent at the Super Bowl stadium.

10,004,603: Kilowatt/hours of power consumed by home TVs tuned in to the game.

9,000,000: Current Kilowatt/hours of solar power generated in the US.

22,000: Number of parking spaces at the stadium.

264,000: Number of bicycles all those spaces could hold.

$5.6 billion: Amount consumers will spend on Super Bowl related items.

$400 million: Amount of money added to the local economy because of the game.

35%: Ticket holders writing-off the game as a business expense.

$12,500: Price Tiffany charges to produce the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

$2.8 million: Cost for a 30-second advertisement slot during the game.

20.5: Number of minutes worth of ads it would take to pay for a new stadium at that rate.

45: Number of minutes worth advertisements during last year's game.

41%: Percent of Super Bowl viewers surveyed who will re-watch this year's ads online.

2.9 million: Number of HD TVs bought to watch the game.

41: Days in advance, on average, Super Bowl plans are made.

20 million: Number of Americans attending a Super Bowl party.

17: Average number of people attending each party.

5%: Percent of people who watch the big game alone.

40%: Percent of Super Bowl viewers who are not football fans.

10 million: Number of man-hours spent preparing food for the Super Bowl party.

1: person who thought this was interesting enough to share with you.