GARY | Raising the minimum wage to $9 from $7.25 per hour would help 15 million American workers better provide for their families and also would stimulate the economy, said an official from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Mary Beth Maxwell, acting deputy administrator for the Wage and Hour Division based in Chicago, facilitated a roundtable discussion with low-wage workers Wednesday at Sojourner Truth House, 410 W. 13th Ave.
She said the discussion was one of many being sponsored throughout the nation to gather support for President Barack Obama’s proposal to boost the minimum wage and increase the wages earned by those whose income comes from tips, such as wait staff.
“In his State of the Union address, President Obama said that it’s time for us to reward work, that $7.25 an hour is not enough; it’s not a living wage,” Maxwell said.
The wage increase would provide about $70 more per month for these workers, and any increase in minimum wages usually triggers an increase in many other employees’ salaries, she said.
“If you put more money in people’s pockets, what do they do? Spend it. Consumer spending has always been the engine that has driven the economy,” Maxwell said.
The stories of those who have to make ends meet on minimum wages are important to the process of fulfilling that proposal, she said.
“I have two children, 8 and 11, and I can’t even make it to the end of the month. I have to rely on Sojourner Truth House for food,” said Rozenda Jones, a certified nursing assistant who works full-time.
“It’s discouraging when my children say ‘You go to work today and you can’t buy me a pair of shoes?'” Jones said. “They (the schools) will let your child go hungry at lunch if you forget to give them $2 for lunch. My kids have come home crying.”
Adrienne Armant works for the city of Gary in code enforcement and makes about $9 an hour now. She said she has to buy her own uniforms and provide her own transportation for her job. However, she doesn’t get insurance with her job.
“I’m a diabetic and take insulin. I have to go to the free clinic to get my insulin,” Armant said. “You do what you have to do.”
Cassandra Williamson said her move from South Bend to Gary has been a very negative experience. The transmission on her van broke and she couldn’t work the second shift as a CNA due to lack of bus transportation.
“I’m looking for work, but it’s hard to get to the outer cities without transportation,” Williamson said. “I have a 12-year-old girl and I try to keep my days open for her, if I need to go to school or take her to the doctor.”