A longtime Gary resident got a chance to shake the vice president's hand and tell him how he has long worried about how he would pay the next electric bill.
William Ivey, 41, took part in a minimum wage roundtable with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Labor Seth Harris at the White House on Tuesday, on the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the minimum wage.
President Barack Obama has proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour and indexing it to the cost-of-living. The roundtable took place to renew the call for an increase and to highlight the history of the minimum wage, which has been raised 22 times since it was first adopted, said U.S. Department of Labor spokeswoman Rhonda Burke.
Ivey, who recently relocated to Indianapolis for a better-paying job, and 19 other workers shared tales of hardship at the roundtable in Washington, D.C. He said later that he would benefit from any increase in wages.
"It would have a major impact," he said. "Having a little extra money makes you feel human when you're living paycheck to paycheck. Your kid might need something in school. You might want to go buy a shirt. Every little bit helps."
To make ends meet, Ivey had worked a full-time telemarketing job and two-part time positions. He earned $8 an hour at a call center, did catering at the Genesis Convention Center and mowed grass for the Gary Parks Department. Every weekday, he worked from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. before catching a bus to his second job, where he often worked until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.
He said often had to work on the weekends, just to scrape by.
"I told him my side of the story, how I struggled to pay the bills and child support," he said. "I had just enough to take care of myself and nothing extra to enjoy life. I told him it's time for us to make it. We just want the American Dream. We don't want to be rich or famous. We just want our due."
Ivey told the vice president how it was hard to keep up with bills, especially when he was trying to help out his 19-year-old daughter, who is attending Kentucky State University.
"When you get paid, your light bill's due," he said. "You have to choose what you're going to pay, but you need your phone and you need your lights and electricity. Your money's gone to bills as soon as you get it, even when you budget as best you can. It's a constant struggle."
He talked of how disappointing it was to tell a child he or she couldn't afford new shoes, a movie rental or even a trip to the park, or to work so much that he had no time for family.
Biden seemed to understand the struggles low-income people face and was very down to earth, Ivey said. His speech showed real concern for hardworking people who don't make much money, he said.
Ivey said he felt blessed to be able to take his picture with the vice president, tour the White House and see historic paintings, such as one of George Washington conferring with his generals.
Being chosen to visit the White House was like realizing a dream or winning a championship, Ivey said.
He carried a personal message to the vice president from Gary Mayor Karen Wilson-Freeman, who sent her regards.
"He asked me to tell her 'I said hi,'" Ivey said.