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Life at America's bottom wage

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In the end, the law may exert only a modest influence on the arc of Oklahoma's economy, experts say. (The income gains and job setbacks would be greater if the hike, say, doubled the wage instead of boosting it by the proposed 40 percent.)

Yet the proposed raise would have a big effect on the households that would be directly affected.

The legislation calls for the wage floor to rise in three steps, reaching $7.25 after two years.

A pay jump from $6 to $7.25 an hour would put 21 percent more money in each paycheck for Hosier. "That would help a lot," he says.

A 'soldier' in Salvation Army

A sturdy, soft-spoken man born in Arkansas, Hosier has spent about 15 years in this unassuming city of 39,000. He's worked as a mechanic on lawnmowers and other small motors. And for six years, he's been a "soldier" – a worker – at the Salvation Army. He rides a big truck, loading and unloading furniture, toys, boxes of clothing, and other items that county residents donate for sale in the store.

It's work that he believes in, but he also works there because the people – including the manager known as "Major" – believe in him.

"It's the people in Salvation Army who help you out," John says.

And he has needed help. His life story, as he recounts it, includes physical abuse from his father as a boy, various forms of drug abuse ("I did it all") and a prison term. And he struggles now with illiteracy.

As he sought a new life, he credits God and Tina with helping him forward. The church here has also been a haven of support.

The gathering on this night is not for formal worship but for a mix of activities. Mrs. Hosier settles in for some games of Bingo. As John heads to a vending machine and treats the family to drinks, a friend hands Tina a little gift. It's a typical-looking mug, but it makes her smile when it turns out to be a music box, too.

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