As a social worker in a public clinic, I see how poverty affects the lives of low wage workers on a daily basis. The stress, anxiety, depression can be unbearable when its exacerbated by the struggle to cover basic needs.
My parents are low wage workers. They immigrated from Korea over 30 years ago and achieved the dream of making it in the U.S: owning their own dry cleaning business, purchasing a house, sending their kids to college. The 12-hour days standing over hot machines took a toll on my parents, and they decided to spend their last years before retirement in less strenuous jobs. With their limited English and isolation in an overall white suburb, they could find only low wage jobs in a car company in the packaging department. They make about $9 an hour. This is considered a “near-poor” income, according to federal guidelines.
Many times, my mother wakes up at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings to squeeze in some extra hours. They do their best within their income; never buying new clothes or going out to eat. My mother recently fell and broke her wrist. She was unable to work for 3 months and therefore unable to earn any income. They are not yet eligible for Medicare and the company insurance does not cover all of their medical expenses.
There is a movement happening, and you can see it in the fast food workers’ strikes. Recently, a few other volunteers and I went into our community and talked to people about the minimum wage. I live in New York’s 8th district, represented by Hakeem Jeffries. Last week, I submitted a petition to his office, signed by 300 constituents, to summon him for a town hall meeting to discuss minimum wage. There is a bill in Congress that he and others can co-sponsor, H.R. 1346, the “Catching up to 1968 Act of 2013,” that raises the minimum wage to $10.50, and pegging it to inflation.
My parents deserve a better wage, as well as the 30 million other low wage workers who make less today than they did in 1968.
Erica Lee is a Social Worker living in Brooklyn, NY by way of Chicago, IL.
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