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Ear to the Ground

Low Wage Workers in New York City Speak Out

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Posted on Jul 2, 2013
Rameshng (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A 25-year-old fast food worker from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn went on record in the newspaper of record to say that life earning just above minimum wage is not desirable for herself or her children.

Shenita Simon earns $7.75 an hour, 50 cents above minimum wage, as a shift manager at KFC. “From this,” writes Michael Powell in The New York Times, “she and her husband, Jude Toussaint, an unemployed antenna installer, buy clothes for their three children and food, and help her mother with the rent.”

Her checks are often hours short. And when she works overtime her rate of pay doesn’t increase. She gets two checks at straight time, as if she worked two different jobs.

When boiling oil spilled over and scalded her hands, she received just $58 per week in workers’ compensation. Her manager called nearly every day demanding to know when she would return to work, she said.

“I’m beyond not satisfied,” she says. “This isn’t the life I want for my children. This isn’t the life I want for myself.”

Powell wants those who fret about upper-class anxieties deriving from wealth to consider for a moment the predicament of supporting oneself from a perspective of lower standards.

“Forget the gilded dreams of 90th-floor penthouse-dwelling hedge fund masters for just a second,” he writes. “We’ll mourn the ridiculously high price tag for brownstones in another column. The economic comebacks of New York, of New Jersey and of so many states ride piggyback on the growth of low-wage jobs, on the hiring of those who dip French fries in boiling oil and pull flesh off the bones of factory chickens.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The New York Times:

Fast-food businesses have added 25,000 jobs in New York in the past decade. Last week I sat in a low-ceiling City Council hearing room and listened and squirmed as fast-food workers — the Wendy’s hamburger slinger, the Papa John’s bike delivery man, the woman who mops floors in KFC — recounted the prosaic facts of their lives for a fact-finding panel.

There was a Mexican man with gray hair and a bushy mustache who trained as an architect. His two daughters live in Mexico and depend on him, and he sleeps in a basement and makes $5 an hour delivering Papa John’s pizza.

“I delivered during Hurricane Sandy,” he said in Spanish. “They told us to ride bent over, so that the pizzas didn’t get wet.”

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