First Person: Working for Minimum Wage

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Irene Cole is a single mom with two teenage boys earning minimum wage in Atlanta, Ga. She says the wage increase, while welcomed, won't help her bottom line.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And now we've got a personal story. Irene Cole is a single mom with two teenage boys. She lives on the minimum wage in Atlanta, Georgia.

Ms. IRENE COLE (Atlanta, Georgia): I work with a company called Ace Hospitality. I'm a hostess/server sometimes.

CHIDEYA: How steady is the work in terms of how many hours a week do you get and how much do you make an hour?

Ms. COLE: It varies from place to place. I can make anywhere from minimum wage to maybe $9 an hour.

CHIDEYA: So do you get any health insurance or any benefits and also, do you get any help from the government like food stamps or housing assistance?

Ms. COLE: No. I don't get any of that. I don't qualify for any of that. At this point, as far as medical benefits, no, I don't have any medical benefits because we just switched over to start getting medical benefit.

CHIDEYA: You've been working mainly for minimum wage without medical benefits for how long now?

Ms. COLE: Oh, about three years.

CHIDEYA: So, Irene, how have you been able to deal with issues like medical care?

Ms. COLE: Well medical care - we have a local hospital, which is a state hospital and the hospital's name is Grady Memorial. And it services the Atlanta area as far as people who have no coverage - medical coverage. And because of the medical cuts recently, they found their self in a medical difficulty. So once they - if they closed their doors, we're going to be set with a plight where we're not going to have anybody to go to as far as health care.

CHIDEYA: Irene, you've got two teenage kids. Tell me what a typical week is like for you trying to put food on the table, trying to make sure that you have time for them, trying to pay the rent.

Ms. COLE: Well, my typical day reflects of - we get up early in the morning. And then I'm off to work around 12, 1 o'clock in the afternoon. And I don't get back until probably about 11 o'clock at night - 12 sometimes. And during the day, they'll call me and speak to me. We'll discuss whatever is going on and basic - most of the time is on the phone at this point. Other than that, typically, I'll get the bills paid while I'm in transit going to work. And on my lunch break or during a break time, I'll go and run out to pay a bill or something in that nature.

CHIDEYA: When you think about what can really help you at this point in time, do you think that raising the minimum wage is really what helps you most or could the government - whether it's a state government or the federal government do other things for you that might make your life easier and it might even make it easier for you to pursue your education?

Ms. COLE: Well, what I think should happen is - I mean, yeah, we're going to get a minimum wage increase, but it won't even make a bit of difference one way or the other because the increase is - as far as the utilities and food is so astronomical that by the time I probably feel it, I still feel like I'm in the same predicament.

CHIDEYA: Well, Irene, thanks so much for talking to us.

Ms. COLE: You are so welcome. I appreciate this time that I had on your broadcast.

CHIDEYA: Irene Cole is a single mother earning minimum wage in Atlanta, Georgia.

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