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Raise Minimum Wage? Issue Hits Home

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Raise Minimum Wage? Issue Hits Home

Economy

Raise Minimum Wage? Issue Hits Home

Raise Minimum Wage? Issue Hits Home

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A single mother, 28-year-ld Jameelah Blackston works for a Goodwill store in Oakland, Calif. As the Senate considers raising the federal minimum wage, Blackston tells her story of trying to make ends meet on mimimum wage.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

There's a popular phrase, making a dollar out of 15 cents, and people living on a minimum wage often have to do that, stretch every cent because every cent counts. Now Congress seems likely to raise the federal minimum wage. The House passed a bill to lift it from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. The Senate is getting ready to vote, but what does this all mean to workers?

Well, first off, each state can set its own minimum wages at or above the federal guidelines, and a number of states had done so. At the start of the new year, California's minimum wage jumped to $7.50.

But even that is barely enough to make ends meet for Jameelah Blackston. The young single mother works as a floor associate at an Oakland Goodwill store. And she says she's living paycheck to paycheck with her 8-year-old son.

Ms. JAMEELAH BLACKSTON: My son is very outspoken. He wants to speak to you, dance for you, tells jokes for you. And so since I'm not really there I miss it. I miss it.

Oh, our average day is not too good because it's up in the morning - 6:30, 7:00 o'clock. That's our time when we get up and we eat. He goes to school. And then I go to work, and I don't get off work until 7:30. And the daycare lady, she drops him off at my job around 6:00. So every time he's there, he reads the books or whatever is in the Goodwill. I'm off at 7:30 and we try to find something to eat.

Even though I only get paid $7.50, the people that come in there - it makes you know what people go through everyday. Everybody has a different life than you but we are all going through the same struggle. We're all trying to, you know, feed our family, you know, be good people, make sure we have some faith in our life.

When I started working at the Goodwill, I was trying to prepare myself, and that's what I'm ended up there because I hadn't worked in three years. I was depressed because I had lost a job that I was making $19 an hour at. I was working at Albertson's and I was on my way. I was going to have my own store, you know. And there was a girl, and she came into the store and I slid the credit card and I didn't even look at it because I see this girl everyday; she's a regular customer. And so I lost my job because of that, because she stole the credit card from a customer that left their wallet in the basket.

It sounds like, well, I guess I need to start at the bottom, and that was my problem because I didn't want to start back at the bottom again. This is my first semester I stopped going to school. And so, I kind of feel bad right now about it because I don't have a car and the classes that I need are up at Merritt, and I can't be there all on time by catching the bus. Minimum wage is not enough for me.

I'm trying to make it off of minimum wage and go to school at the same time, and take care of my child and try to save money for a car, and pay bills and wash clothes. I get some money, you know, from the government to help me pay for food, but I only get $60 because I got a job now, so they cut my food stamps.

And, you know, we like to eat. You know, good, like, real food. We want to eat healthy stuff. We want to cook. We cook at our house. My favorite is chicken. I love baked chicken. I like to cook all types of different things that I never tried before. Like not too long ago, I have made so fried turkey and it was really good. It was really good, and I made black-eyed peas because, you know, when you make black-eyed peas it means good luck. I'm still believing in good luck.

My dream is to be independent and to help other people that need a chance just like me. To help people be, you know, real people not, you know, be worried about minimum wage. See people, they stuck there and they can't get out. All your money just going straight to what you got to do, what you're going to do. If you got $2 and then you're holding on to it like for two weeks, the next thing you know, oh, you know, you have to get this or you got to go by that.

Your baby gets sick. You have to go get some medicine. You have to take him to the doctor. You've got to feed him. You cannot eat, but your kid has to eat. Before I leave this world, I want to do something positive, you know, for everybody. We have to.

CHIDEYA: That was Jameelah Blackston of Oakland, California.

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