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A Look at What Life Is Like on Minimum Wage
Cindy Rodriguez

February 1, 2012
View the Original Article

Albany lawmakers are considering raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour making it the third highest rate in the country. Under proposed legislation put forward by Assembly Democrats, the minimum wage would then rise annually by the rate of inflation. The potential increase is welcomed news for many workers trying to pay bills and keep their families afloat.

On Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, shoppers can purchase everything from fresh fish to religious candles to hardware. At Stacy Adams Plaza, where shiny men’s suits line the walls, worker Dillon Saint Claire was waiting to help the next customer.

Like many retail workers in the area, the 28-year old gets paid minimum wage. “I just got married and I just had a son. He’s two weeks now,” Saint Claire said. “I support him and my wife because she isn’t working right now. It’s kinda tough but we help each other out.”

Saint Claire said he typically works 10-hour shifts, six days a week and Sundays are his only day off. For now, he said his family is living in a rented room that costs $130 a week. There’s no money for cable. He has a cell phone and his wife uses a free internet phone. The family relies on the government sponsored Women, Infants and Children program to help feed their new baby. Saint Claire said if the minimum wage gets raised, he’d spend his extra earnings on his son.

Still, Saint Claire, a tall, thin, soft-spoken young man with a subtle Caribbean accent, did not complain about his situation. “It’s a blessing to have a job period in this time. It’s better than nothing but raising the minimum wage...would be a good thing,” Saint Claire said.

His co-worker, Dieudonne Ouedraogo, also just became a father. Dressed in a shirt and tie, with a tape measure draped around his neck, he welcomed the possibility of making more money. “For sure it will help," he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s enough. Anybody would like to have more. Everything is rising,”

“Rent is high. You go to the grocery and it’s not like the same price it used to be before. Definitely $8.50 would be a very good step,” Ouedraogo continued. He and his girlfriend both make minimum wage and are barely able to pay their $1000 a month rent in Springfield Gardens, Queens. The retail worker said any extra money they earn would go to daycare for their new baby.

A person working 40 hours a week at the current minimum wage earns $290 a week or $15,080 a year. At $8.50 an hour, a 40 hour work week generates $340 a week or $17,680.Around the corner at a wig and beauty supply store, a woman behind the counter was reluctant to speak about earning minimum wage, but her customer Patsy Modeste was not.

“It should be at least $10 because people they work very hard,” Modeste said. The home health aide said nearly all of her monthly wages go to paying $1017 a month in rent leaving her with very little for gas, light and phone.

“I just run out of money, but the good lord have me surviving you know,” she said as she slowly exited the store.