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The Bare Minimum | Is it possible to live on minimum wage?

"I'm barely making it now. So, I can't imagine what someone making $7.25 is doing," Madeline Finney said.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It's been twelve years since there has been a raise in the federal minimum wage. That's plenty of time for the cost of living to go up and a long time since $7.25 an hour went a lot further for Americans.

Both Kentucky and Indiana follow the federal standard, which topped out at $7.25 an hour in 2009. Congress eased in a $0.70 raise from $6.55 an hour in 2008, which was also a $0.70 bump from $5.85 in 2007. Prior to that, 10 years had passed without an increase.

Fast forward to 2021 and Americans are going on 12 years, still waiting for a better bare minimum.

Madeline Finney, a grocery store cashier, told FOCUS she can't imagine living on $7.25 an hour. The 23-year-old currently makes $12 an hour and can't afford to live on her own.

"These prices aren't feasible," Finney said.

She graduated summa cum laude last May, but despite her college degrees, Finney is now working as a grocery store cashier.

"I was literally applying for anything that was $10 and up regardless of what occupation it was," Finney said. "I'm back where I was five years ago, working the same job I was in high school."

But Finney makes $5 more than the minimum wage. 

"I'm barely making it now. So, I can't imagine what someone making $7.25 is doing," Finney said.

Twenty states go by the federal minimum wage which adds up to a salary of about $15,000 a year.

According to the Kentucky Education & Workforce Development Cabinet, of the 1,011,000 hourly workers in the Commonwealth in 2020, 17,000 were paid at or below the minimum wage. That's 1.7% of workers paid hourly, which is slightly higher than the U.S. average of 1.5%.

On a full ride in college, Madeline is glad at least she doesn't have any student loan debt, but she doesn't have the luxury of expendable cash. So, she has to be a very frugal shopper. 

"A lot of stuff that I can afford is cheap and unhealthy," Finney said. She just has to worry about feeding herself.

But for Joey D'Amico, a new dad, working at Amazon for $15 an hour wasn't really prime.

"From day one, from the day we found out that we were having a baby, I said,' I'm going to do better. I have to do better,'" D'Amico said.

The 27-year-old is now an electrician's apprentice with Swift DBM. He took a pay cut now, realizing that in just a few years it'll be much better pay.

"I think the national average is like $80,000," D'Amico said.

That's $50,000 more than the $31,000 a year he would be making at Amazon at $15 an hour. And $15 is what many in Congress want minimum wage to be.

"I definitely think it's a good start but it still doesn't feel like enough,"D'Amico said. His wife provides a second income.

Nicki Wright, a 30-year-old single mother and server at Outback, is paid an hourly rate below minimum wage.

"I do get $2.13 an hour," Wright said. 

But with tips, in a pandemic, she figures she brings home between $400 and $600 a week. Even at the top end, she brings home just below $15 an hour.

"t's been pretty hard," Wright said. "I have not bought anything for myself in a long time and my son comes first."

Meanwhile, Madeline Finney is still young but she feels she's wise enough to know that the bare minimum needs a hefty raise.

"If they really think it's doable in this world, pay rent, pay insurance, pay for gas, pay for groceries, pay to live, try it on $7.25," Finney said. "If you think you can, I would love to see it."

RELATED: Kentucky jobless rates fall, here are the 3 counties with lowest in the state

►Contact reporter John Charlton at jcharlton@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter (@JCharltonNews) and Facebook.

►Have a story tip? Contact the FOCUS Investigative team at FOCUS@whas11.com