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Minimum Wage: What Will 90 Cents More an Hour Buy?

Congress is still wrangling over the details, but a two-step increase in the federal minimum wage, from $4.25 to $5.15, is all but certain to become law. The increase will apply across the board, to breadwinners and high-school part-timers alike. JAMES BLAIR asked minimum-wage workers just what that 90 cents an hour might mean in their lives. Responses ranged from paying the rent on time to increasing a student’s contribution to his college mutual fund.

The Breadwinners

PRISCILLA ANN CAFFERY

Warehouse worker, Los Angeles County Probation Department

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I work in a warehouse and I do a variety of jobs--lifting, loading and unloading trucks, driving trucks, picking up supplies, delivering supplies, answering phones, dealing with as many as 20 to 40 general relief workers daily. And outside that I have three other part-time jobs.

All four jobs are minimum wage. And it’s not easy. It’s tough being a single parent and trying to raise a family of four children and the youngest is three months and the oldest is 20 - and I have [children] 6 and 9.

It’s not very easy; but I’m making ends meet. And in order to do that I have to work four jobs to have my kids live comfortable and fulfill their needs. Their wants just have to wait.

I think it’s a great idea if they would raise the minimum wage. That would eliminate one of my jobs and bring it down to three. It would give me a little more [time with my kids].

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You work a minimum-wage job you’re going to put out minimum; but if the wages were increased a little bit more, even as much as $5.75, you would see more productivity.

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PEGGIE SMITH-PARKER

Home care worker, South-Central Los Angeles

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Today, I would think the average low or minimum wage should be between $7 and $8 an hour. Then a person could afford to pay rent and utility bills and at least go to a show every now and then, and go to a doctor.

$5.15 isn’t much more than $4.25. What will it accomplish? I’d say my landlord would be glad that I could pay my rent in whole or on time. I think that’s the only good answer I could give, because [the increase] isn’t enough to pay bills per se.

Thank God for 90 cents, but it isn’t enough. It still keeps us on the poverty line.

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VERDIA DANIELS

Home care worker, Los Angeles

When you talk about minimum wage, the first question a person will ask you is how do you pay your rent? They never think that, no matter what you earn, you are a human being and your needs are the same as anyone else’s. You need clothing, personal hygiene items. There are many things that people never think about. How can you do this off of $4.25 an hour? It’s impossible. You go without.

The 90 cents will make a difference, but it’s not going to make the difference we need.

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The Students

DOMINEKE GREEN

16, sophomore, King-Drew Medical Magnet High School, Los Angeles.

I work at the [school’s] Center for Education and Achievement. I do filing, answer telephones, input data in computers and assist the staff. The reason I chose that job was trying to earn my own way without gouging my parents out of their money--trying to get myself independent.

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If the minimum wage increase is implemented, I would definitely use that money to invest in my mutual funds to enable me to save up more money for college. The cost is increasing every year and I’m planning to go into medicine.

There’s a lot of people out there that have families and [the increase] will enable them to do better, to have a better life. I can understand that they can’t increase [the minimum wage more], but that would be great if they would--at least three more dollars, because some families out there are struggling. I know it would put a burden on the economy, but at least it would be helping families make ends meet.

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RAY-JOHN RAMOS

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16, sophomore, Cooper High School, San Pedro

I work at the Del Amo Mall at the Pretzel Maker; I’ve had this job for a week. I needed to do something other than school and to stay off the streets.

What most people would do with a minimum wage job is save up for a car, but an increase would mean helping out around the house, paying the bills and some pocket money for clothes, supplies for school or preparing for my transfer to the High School for the Arts next year.

[I worry that] if they would raise the minimum wage it would mean either hiring fewer teens or not hiring at all.

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GOR SARDARYAN

16, Junior, Taft High School, Los Angeles.

I work at McDonald’s. Usually I work in the drive through. It’s not a very easy job and I get minimum wage for it.

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First of all, I wanted the job to start credit. This is my first job, I’m only 16 and I needed money because my parents bought me a car. I had to drive to school, so I had to work to pay for my insurance.

I think that people are really underpaid. I’m only a teenager. For me, $4.25 is not enough, but I live with my parents so it’s kind of OK. But for people who are old, who I work with--there’s people who work with me who are 35, 40--and they only get $4.25 and they have a family. I don’t know how they can support them. It’s real hard.

I’m already a swing manager, but that doesn’t make a lot of difference in the money because I only got a 20-cent raise. I think [a 90-cent increase] would be a lot a better, but if that’s going to happen [a year from now], we’re not going to feel a difference, because the prices on everything are going up.


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