SIKESTON -- Bernice Brooks of Sikeston loves her job.
As a receptionist for Missouri Career Center in Sikeston, she gets to greet people, answer the phone, hand out resources, help people find jobs that fit their profile as well as perform other tasks.
The only downside to the 59-year-old's job is the $5.15 she gets paid for every hour she works.
"It's hard to make ends meet living off minimum wage. I work 26 hours a week and when I get my check, it's already spent because I have bills to pay," Brooks said.
But Brooks isn't alone. She's one of 42,000 Missourians who are minimum wage workers. Nationwide $1.9 million Americans earn the federal minimum wage of $5.15 or less, according to 2005 data from the Department of Labor.
The average minimum wage workers tend to be young, and most workers earning at or below minimum wage occur in the food service industry.
When adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1955, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Institute.
In Missouri, women account for 61 percent of minimum wage workers; 71 percent of minimum wage workers are 20 and older. Minimum wage currently equals an annual income of $10,712, according to Missouri Department of Economic Development.
Meanwhile, Brooks will continue to try and make ends meet.
Brooks, who draws Social Security disability, said it was difficult finding a job. "I have had two back surgeries. No one wants to hire you if you have back problems -- it's like the plague. I guess they think if you get hurt, you're going to sue them," Brooks said.
Brooks is no stranger to work though. Throughout her life, she has worked as a nurse and cashier, and she's also worked in factories.
Then last February when Brooks was hired through Missouri Career Center's experienced worker program for people 55 and older.
Brooks pays her utility bill, monthly rent of $275, purchase groceries and other expenses.
"It is difficult and hard to maneuver with little money. My paychecks run $170 every two weeks after they take everything (taxes, etc.) out," Brooks said.
Brooks thinks minimum wage should be increased around the $7-mark, she said.
"If you put in your time and you do the work, I really think you should get at least $7.20 or $7.30 (an hour)," Brooks said. "There are other people who do not have an income and then when they find a job making minimum wage, they might get a raise of 5 or 10 cents an hour -- but $5.25 is still not going to make it."
Brooks said she's lucky. All of her kids are grown. She can't imagine what it would be like trying to raise a family on minimum wage.
"If you're a two-parent family and have small kids, you still have to clothe them and feed them and put them in day care or hire a baby sitter, and that costs a lot of money," Brooks said.
Add the increasing cost of fuel at the pump and cost of living, it's really hard to make ends meet, Brooks said.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, while the minimum wage has remained unchanged since 1997, the cost of living has increased by 26 percent for that same period. In 2005, the federal minimum wage would have needed to be $6.26 per hour to have the same purchasing power that it had in 1997.
One of the groups opposing the minimum wage ballot measure is the National Federation of Independent Business. The NFIB is part of the campaign committee leading efforts against the measure, called Save Our State's Jobs.
Labor group AFL-CIO, on the other hand, is campaigning at the federal level and state-by-state to raise the minimum wage.
Brooks said she's definitely in favor of a hike in the minimum wage rate. She compared living on $5.15 today to that of the Depression-era.
"Things are going higher, but the money isn't moving," Brooks said. "The wages aren't getting you anywhere."