Economically, the verdict is mixed on minimum wage: Supporters paint the raises as an economic stimulus, a way to reduce poverty; detractors worry budget-strained employers will be forced to cut jobs. (Read Tina Griego on Santa Fe’s experience with raising the minimum wage.)
Some workers believe the wage increases will deliver instant, tangible benefits: a bus ride, another sack of groceries. Others won’t celebrate a victory they deem more symbolic than helpful. Here are a few stories from workers who’ve gotten raises:
70 hours a week and a ‘step in the right direction’
On Dec. 31, New York raised state minimum wage from $8 to $8.75, which will directly benefit an estimated 437,000 employees. One is Aracelly Cantos, 27. She juggles two jobs in different boroughs and expects to see a $2,500 boost in her average annual income. (Reporter’s note: This interview was conducted through a translator.)
“I work two jobs, between 60 and 70 hours each week at minimum wage. I wake up at 5 a.m. every day and take the subway to either my job in Manhattan or my job in Brooklyn. The trips take between one and two hours. I’m a customer service representative at companies that specialize in kitchen ware. I’m on my feet for 10 hours each day.
By the end of my shifts, my legs hurt. Everything hurts. I fall asleep when I get home. When you work so much, you don’t really have a social life. I want to work as much as I can now, while I’m young, so I can make my dreams happen. I want to buy a house in Ecuador, where my family is from.
I make, in total, about $400 per week. The rent for my two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn Heights, Queens is $1,400. I share the apartment with my mom, who is sometimes able to help out with the rent. She cares for the elderly. She came here 22 years ago. She worked so hard everyday to make a better future. She started having all kinds of problems with her pancreas. She recently had an emergency surgery.
Besides rent, most of my money goes to commuting and food: $30 weekly for a MetroCard, and $70 weekly for groceries. My last splurge was special moccasins for my mom to help with her blood circulation.
It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s hard to get excited about a minimum wage raise. I will still work between 60 and 70 hours each week. I will still barely make enough money to get by. I will spend my money on the same things, and hopefully put away more money for my home in Ecuador. I don’t see the people I love enough because I’m always working. Parents in my community don’t get to know their children because they’re always working. I don’t want that to be the case when I have a family. So, I’ll always push for more wage increases.”
Part-time in Massachusetts
On Jan. 1, minimum wage in Massachusetts swelled from $8 an hour to $9 an hour — the country’s highest increase. About 280,000 workers will receive the raise, including Rita Dias, 26:
“I work at Popeyes and a clothing store for minimum wage [in the greater Boston area]. I work about 20 hours per week, and I’d like to work more — if I could get the hours. I help support my mother and three brothers, ages 23, 19 and 3. We live in a three-bedroom apartment. My rent is $500 monthly.
The rest of my money usually goes to food and, when I can afford it, money for the bus and train. When I can’t afford it, I walk everywhere. Up to three miles. Sometimes, it’s scary to walk everywhere. But I have no other choice. I want to help my family.
The money from the minimum wage raise is great. It’s good for so many workers. I think, for me, it means I will have more money for the bus and train.”
A 12-cent raise at a Florida Taco Bell
Minimum wage in Florida this year rose 12 cents, up from $7.93 to $8.05. The pay bump applies to an estimated 365,000 workers. Roderick Livingston, 27, said it won’t lift him from “modern day slavery.”
“I work at Taco Bell in St. Petersburg, Florida. I work as much as I can, usually 25 hours each week. I sleep in my car. It’s an ‘87 Cadillac. It doesn’t work. So, I take the bus.
I am the father of two sons: a two-year-old and a seven-year-old. Most of my money goes to child support. The rest goes to my bus passes: weekly most of the time, and monthly if the money is looking good.
How do I eat? I take food from work and eat in the back room. And on the 12th of every month, the mother of one of my children gives me about $100 in food stamps.
Me and my kids, we can’t afford the things that we need. Anything that we want is a no-no.
I haven’t made more than $9 since I was 19. I did odd jobs. I worked construction. I was homeless for awhile. Now, I’m doing what I can to get back on my feet. The next step: Save $1000 to get back into an apartment.
The work that we do, it’s modern-day slavery. We’re not being compensated for the work we put in. Minimum wage, as it is now, is not a living wage. This 12-cent raise does not give us a living wage. It’s not just me — there are so many people out there, families out there, working hard to barely survive. People don’t want to party or anything like that. People just want to pay the bills.”
Do you work for minimum wage? Share your stories in the comments.