Mother’s Day dinner, then and now


I remember when Mother’s Day dinner for our very large family meant the A&W drive-in. Mother and Dad piled all of us in the station wagon and we feasted on California burgers and root beer. I know finances had a lot to do with it, but I bet that keeping all of us corralled in a car instead of running loose in a restaurant was also a factor in the dining decision.

I’m sure that all of us would have been perfectly well-behaved in a restaurant. (Yes, Mom – really!) We would have been so intimidated that we would have folded our hands in our laps and kept quiet. Not like dinner at home — where one of the our past-times was watching the second hand on the clock over the dining room table, and counting how many people talked in ten seconds. Six? Seven?

That was a long time ago, but for many Minnesota mothers (and fathers), a restaurant dinner on Mother’s Day is still out of the question. For Minnesotans living on minimum wage or on the even lower safety net of MFIP, the cost of living keeps going up and the cash keeps shrinking.

Holes in the safety net

The most visible crisis is in the amount of Minnesota welfare benefits. The maximum monthly welfare benefit for a family of three is $532. Add to that the average monthly SNAP (food stamps) benefit of $118 per person, and the amount a family has to live on goes all the way up to $886. For a whole month. For food, clothing, rent, transportation, telephone — everything.

Minnesota’s monthly welfare benefit hasn’t changed since 1986. In 1986, the average cost for a gallon of milk was $2.22, a dozen eggs cost 89 cents, and a loaf of bread went for 56 cents. Today the average price of a gallon of milk is $3.43, a dozen eggs cost $1.92, and a loaf of bread averages $1.41.

To take the discussion past bread and milk, has an analysis of what happened to the value of the dollars in a welfare grant. They have some really cool maps and data for the whole country, but here’s the specific chart that shows Minnesota:

Republished with permission of

Living on minimum wage

The current Minnesota minimum wage is $5.25 an hour for small businesses not involved in interstate commerce, which figures out to $210 for a 40-hour week and $10,920 for a full-time year’s employment. Most Minnesota workers are covered by the federal minimum wage — currently $7.25 an hour, which figures out to $290 for a 40-hour week and $15,080 for a full-time year’s employment.

The federal minimum wage hasn’t increased since 2009. This May, both the Minnesota legislature and Congress are looking at raises. The Minnesota House voted to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015. The Senate voted to raise it to $7.75. (All the Republicans in the MN Senate voted against even that modest raise.) Now they’ll have to come to an agreement, but it’s clear that Minnesota’s minimum wage workers will finally get some kind of raise.

According to the Minnesota Housing Partnership’s research, the fair market rent for “a safe, modest two-bedroom apartment” in the Twin Cities is $920. That’s just the rent, not including food, clothing, etc. MHP reports:

“In order to afford the FMR for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 89 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or a household must include 2.2 minimum wage earners working 40 hours per week year-round in order to make the two-bedroom FMR affordable.”

That means more and more households are spending unaffordable amounts on rent or mortgage payments. If you’d like to see costs for other expenses, there’s a nifty tool called the Living Wage Calculator. You can choose a state and county to find out what living costs are and what you need to earn to support a family of one adult, or one adult and one child, or two adults and one child, and so on. The statewide average for a living wage in Minnesota (less than you need in the metro area), is an hourly wage of $9.11 for a single adult. That’s one adult, no kids, and no frills.

So on this Mother’s Day, think about what it takes to raise a kid — the love, the caring, the time and tears, but also the cold, hard cash. It takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes that village needs to come up with the cash. If you agree, you might think about sending a Mother’s Day message to your legislators. 


Behind the story:

I LOVE facts and figures. Here’s where I found info for this post:

• Remapping Debate website: Abandonment of poor: much worse than you thought – great interactive maps and charts


• Bridge to Benefits FAQs about SNAP (food stamp) benefits

• Bureau of Labor Statistics website – what basic items cost over the years

• Living Wage Calculator  from Massachusetts Institute of Technology

• Minnesota Housing Partnership – great place for housing data