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Can’t support kids on $8.25 per hour

Updated: February 14, 2013 6:34AM

As a young mom with three young kids, I never expected life to be easy. But I believed that if I worked hard, we would get by. Unfortunately, in the minimum-wage, part-time world that the service sector has become, it’s clear I was wrong. That’s why I’m joining together with other food and retail workers in Chicago in a campaign for fair pay to provide for our families and make our communities stronger.

After high school, my children’s father and I both worked low-wage jobs, and we struggled to support our family. He turned to selling drugs to try to make ends meet — a lifestyle I didn’t want to expose our kids to. It was a hard choice to be a single mother, but I know it was the right one.

I’m determined to provide a good life for my family, so I am studying to be a patient care technician. Once I complete the program, I will be a certified phlebotomist, nurse’s aide and EKG technician.

In the meantime, I make $8.25 an hour as a host trainer at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. I do not have a set work schedule, making it difficult to calculate my income, set a budget to support my family, arrange child care and figure out my school schedule. Even working full time, $8.25 wouldn’t be enough to provide for my family. And my hours have been cut so much — down to between four and six hours a week — that my recent paycheck for two week’s work was only $127. I’m in the process of applying for unemployment so I can keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.

I’m committed to raising wages for workers like me because I don’t think anyone with a job should have to rely on public assistance just to make ends meet.

Especially when food and retail corporations in the city are doing better than ever. According to a new report from Stand Up! Chicago, companies like Macy’s and McDonald’s are pulling in huge profits and paying their CEOs an average of $8.3 million a year. Compared to those numbers, it wouldn’t take much to raise pay for every low-wage food or retail worker in the city.

On the other hand, the impact on Chicago would be huge. With higher pay, workers like me would have more to spend at businesses in our communities, strengthening the city’s economy and helping to address problems like crime that are tied to poverty. And taxpayers wouldn’t have to pick up the tab when major, profitable corporations refuse to pay their employees enough to cover basic necessities.

In fact, Stand Up! Chicago’s report shows that if these companies paid their employees a minimum of $15 an hour, it would increase economic activity in the city by $179 million. It would also create jobs. If just 25 low-wage workers in the retail and restaurant sectors got a raise to $15 an hour, one full-time job would be created. If retail and restaurant workers in the Loop and the Magnificent Mile were paid $15 an hour, almost 1,000 new jobs would be created. The total number of jobs that could be created is 4,000 if workers citywide got a raise.

If Chicago workers get raises, the city’s residents could also expect to see a drop in crime and improvement in educational outcomes.

Research shows that income inequality plays a major role in driving up crime and making it harder for kids to succeed in school. In other words, $15 an hour is a simple way to make our city an even better place to live, whether you’re a low-wage worker, a local business owner, a parent, or a concerned community member.

For me, it all comes down to this: I don’t think anyone who works hard should have to struggle to care for their families. When something is wrong, I believe you should stand up for what’s right. And I know that if enough people band together and demand a living wage, not only will my kids have a better life, but all of Chicago will benefit as well.

Racheal Teague is a host trainer at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and a member of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, a group of low-wage food and retail workers who have joined together for fair pay and the right to form a union without interference.

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