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Augusta workers see benefits of minimum wage increase

Ends don't always meet on minimum wage

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Since President Obama called on lawmakers to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour during his recent State of the Union address, economists and pundits have argued about whether it would hurt the economy and small businesses or stimulate growth by boosting spending power and pulling low-wage workers out of poverty.

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Samantha Torres, a senior at Lucy C. Laney High School, works about 30 hours a week at a Wendy's fast food restaurant in Augusta. She said she helps buy food and clothes for herself and her three younger sisters.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Samantha Torres, a senior at Lucy C. Laney High School, works about 30 hours a week at a Wendy's fast food restaurant in Augusta. She said she helps buy food and clothes for herself and her three younger sisters.

Debate over outcomes aside, an increase would affect more than 20 million workers, including high school students, single parents, young adults and senior citizens in the Augusta area. The Augusta Chronicle asked a sample of minimum-wage workers to talk about how they make ends meet. These are their stories.

THE 50-SOMETHING

William Nicholson spent 25 years growing his construction and remodeling business.

He worked on houses in Georgia from Roswell to Athens and watched as a passion turned into a comfortable career.

But in 2010, the darkness he tried most of his life to suppress derailed all of that.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, manic depression made Nicholson, 54, unable to work. His marriage fell apart. After 10 years of sobriety, he couldn’t go a day without drinking and bad decisions pushed him into homelessness.

“It got me down to the real bottom,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson relocated to Augusta last year for a nine-month drug and alcohol program through the Salvation Army and was later offered a part-time job at one of the organization’s warehouses.

The job has given him purpose and stability, he said, but his recovery has come with limitations. He said he is grateful for a chance to have the part-time work, but at $7.25 an hour, it’s almost impossible to get by.

“I’m slowly dwindling away here where I can’t make ends meet,” he said. “We desperately need a raise to the minimum wage, but maybe it should be gradual. Maybe a dollar raise this year, another next year. That way it gradually works into the business system.”

While in recovery, Nicholson receives rent assistance from CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority, which helps the homeless afford housing. To save on insurance and gas, Nicholson bought a motorcycle to get to work, thinking it would be cheaper than a car.

Still, he said, getting by is difficult and getting ahead is impossible. There is no money to invest in a house or save for the future.

“It’s very difficult to save any money,” he said. “I pay rent, groceries, gas, and there’s not much left after that.”

He would like to get back into his love – construction, but he doesn’t have the tools or connections he used to.

“It’s kind of standing still,” he said. “I might need to wait until the economy gets a little better, until I find the right company or something. With all my life’s ups and downs, I’m maintaining. But it’s hard to get by.”

THE STUDENT

When the dismissal bell rings at Lucy C. Laney High School, Samantha Torres’ workday is just beginning.

She waits on the curb outside school for her ride, where Torres slides in her aunt’s car with a Wendy’s uniform stuffed in her backpack.

Every day from 4 to 9 p.m., except Wednesday and Thursday, Torres works the register at the fast-food restaurant on Walton Way and Gordon Highway. Sometimes she makes sandwiches. Her sidework includes cleaning and making drinks. At the end of the night, she has to scrub toilets.

Torres, 17, is not afraid of hard work and is thankful for her job. But at $7.25 an hour, she has to put in a lot of time while juggling school for her paycheck to cover all her expenses.

As a high school senior, it’s easy to feel like she’s missing out.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m falling apart,” Torres said. “I have three projects I should be working on today, but I’m here at work. I feel like I’m at work all the time, and I miss out on a lot of stuff. But if I take off, then I don’t have money.”

Torres, who lives with her disabled mother and three younger sisters, splits her paycheck among food and clothes for herself and sisters. The rest goes into a savings account that she hopes to use to buy a car.

After graduating from Laney this spring, Torres plans to enroll in Aiken Technical College to study phlebotomy.

“I was thinking about going to a university, but it costs too much,” she said.

She said she wants a career in nursing so she doesn’t get stuck in low-paying job the rest of her life.

Torres said she fears a raise in the minimum wage would pull costs of goods up with it. But she said she does not believe her current wage reflects the level of work she does. With a higher hourly rate, Torres imagines she could work fewer hours and have time to be a kid.

“It would help a whole lot,” Torres said. “Maybe I could work less and have more time to focus on school.”

THE VETERAN

The Army veteran stands along Wrightsboro Road and rocks a cardboard guitar as if he’s Jimi Hendrix, trying to lure customers into the parking lot for a $9.99 dinner special.

With headphones plugged in his ears, he zones out and dances to get the attention of passing cars. For a few minutes, Lamar Evans, 24, doesn’t feel like he’s on the nightshift at Little Caesars Pizza.

“It’s kind of fun to listen to my music, dance around and get paid to do it,” Evans said. “But, yeah, I do want something more.”

After leaving the Army in 2011 having served as a military police officer, Evans returned to Augusta and applied for security jobs, hoping for a fresh start on life. What he found, however, was trouble finding full-time work or getting in for an interview at all.

He turned to applying for minimum wage jobs at Bi-Lo, Wal-Mart and Burger King.

“Anything would do,” he said.

Evans found part-time work at Popeyes restaurant in 2012 and another part-time position at Little Caesars last year. When he can get 40 hours per week between both jobs, Evans said he usually earns about $1,200 a month, enough to “pay bills, barely eat and get gas in the car for one or two days.”

There’s no extra cash to unwind with a movie or a night out until the last paycheck of the month. And every week, his hours are at the mercy of the scheduling manager.

“At the end of the day, if I’m not getting my hours, I’m not getting my money,” he said. “When they give me a lot of days off, it hurts. And I want to work.”

Evans said with a military background and clean credentials he had hoped to achieve more, but he found the job market was tough. His goal is to attend massage therapy school to become a masseuse.

The problem is getting time away from work to dedicate to school without falling behind on bills. And with a 5-month-old son to care for, he can’t afford a break.

He said he believes a raise in the minimum wage could help workers such as himself get ahead by going to school to prevent low-paying jobs from becoming a career.

“It will happen, I’ll go to school, just don’t know when,” he said.

THE DROPOUT

Missing one shift at work is so unthinkable for Anthony Bridgewater, on several occasions he has rented a room at a hotel near his job at Kmart in North Augusta so he could walk there the next day.

Bridgewater, 26, shares a car with his mother, a correctional officer, who typically carpools with a coworker to her job in Trenton, S.C.

However, on days she needs the car, Bridgewater said staying home because he doesn’t have a ride is out of the question.

“I can barely make ends meet with what I got, so I’m not missing any work,” he said.

Bridgewater has worked as an electronics associate at Kmart for about a year, enjoys what he does, but said minimum wage leaves almost no chance to get ahead.

The electricity bill at home can balloon to $300 some months, water costs about $100, and after groceries and gas, there is little left.

“Once you pay those bills, you can’t pay anything else,” he said.

Bridgewater said he dropped out of Cross Creek High School in the 12th grade when neighborhood gang violence was too risky to be around. He trained with Job Corps in Kentucky and earned his GED but returned to Augusta in 2010 to help his mother.

Without a college degree, Bridgewater said he has been limited to retail and fast food jobs, even with his good work ethic and clean background. However, he has learned he is talented at sales and dealing with people and wants to capitalize on that.

“I thought about going back to school, but (it) isn’t for me,” said Bridgewater, who studied criminal justice at Augusta Technical College but did not complete a degree. “I see myself opening my own business one day.”

To earn extra cash, Bridgewater cuts lawns and chops dead trees for neighbors, but he said a higher wage would help, too. He said his position at Kmart requires people skills and product knowledge that is not found in everyone, and it would be nice to be compensated more for his abilities.

“It would help. It would help a lot. I would be able to get a bill, maybe two, done and still have a little spending money. It would be easier to save up. Because now, you’re kind of stuck.”

MINIMUM WAGE FACTS

• The federal minimum wage began in the U.S. in 1938 under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

• It was last raised in 2009, when it went from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour.

• Adjusted for inflation, it is lower now than in 1968 ($8.56 in today’s dollars).

• The annual income for a full-time employee on minimum wage is $15,080.

• Twenty-one states have minimum wages above the federal rate, but none is above President Obama’s proposal of $10.1.0

• About two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women.

• While the issue is a partisan one, a 2013 Pew Research Survey found 71 percent of people favored an increase to $9 an hour.

• In his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama urged lawmakers to pass legislation raising the wage. In February, he used an executive order to raise the minimum wage for a few hundred thousand federal contract workers. He urged Congress to pass the increase for the rest of the workforce, stating “It’s the right thing to do.”

Sources: Associated Press, Pew Research Center

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fedex227
11179
Points
fedex227 03/15/14 - 09:52 pm
7
17
Please meet ...
Unpublished

the bottom feeders, the lazy food stamp recipients, the low-life moochers who can only get minimum wage jobs, those who crowd emergency rooms and drive up medical costs because they can't afford medical insurance in the most prosperous nation on earth; your fellow Augustans, Georgians, ... your fellow Americans.

corgimom
31466
Points
corgimom 03/15/14 - 10:10 pm
8
13
I think that is a terrible

I think that is a terrible thing to say, FedEx. I didn't see any evidence of what you said.

There are very few decent jobs in Augusta, it's mostly retail, call centers, and fast-food restaurants, all of whom pay minimum wage or slightly above. There is a REASON why 23.7% of Augustans live in poverty- that translates to 47,000 people.

countyman
19731
Points
countyman 03/15/14 - 10:52 pm
6
10
The Starbucks plant, Eco

The Starbucks plant, Eco Energy facility, Augusta Renewable Energy building, Rockwood plant, multiple new offices in/around the Augusta Exchange, Starbucks plant, etc is moving forward right now. The city of Augusta just ranked second in the nation for high tech job growth between 2006 and 2011..

The Medical District continues to boom and the Medical Commons opens this year. The new Cancer Cancer coming soon is another job and revenue creator.

The NSA opened in 2012 and the Cyber Command is underway at Fort Gordon,

The poverty rate in Augusta will continue to decrease, because of all the growth.

deestafford
26595
Points
deestafford 03/15/14 - 11:54 pm
16
8
Folks, People are not paid based on their...

Folks, People are not paid based on their situation, circumstances, or what the President or some other do-gooder thinks they should be paid. They are paid on what the job is worth to the employer. It's called the Free Market---something which Obama has no understanding since he has never had a job where he was responsible for anything but drawing a paycheck from the government.

Augz79
1083
Points
Augz79 03/16/14 - 12:13 am
14
7
Re: Cranky Panda

Just because someone wants a fair wage does not make them a bottom feeder. The real bottom feeders are the corporations that CAN afford to pay more, but let the gov't pick up the tab on EBT, medical care, etc. so that the shareholders can have more profit.

Also, just because someone is min wage does not mean they are on EBT. Hate on EBT all you want (too many people have it), but not the hard working people on the front lines that have to deal with entitlement queens and the like. You ever had to *serve* the very people that are getting free food off the taxes that come out of your check? Maybe if the gov't makes it less profitable to spread your legs and pop out another *God's Little Miracle* then things will change.

RhondaAllDay365
10
Points
RhondaAllDay365 03/16/14 - 12:19 am
8
6
I know personally how these

I know personally how these people feel with only getting paid minimum wage, you barely can make ends meet and with the cost of gas, food, rent, and etc. it's not enough. I have a degree and I've still haven't been successful in finding a job in my field and when I do apply for jobs I always hear we're sorry but you don't have enough experience, well how will we ever get the experience if we are never given a chance.

deestafford
26595
Points
deestafford 03/16/14 - 12:47 am
10
3
I don't think the people earning minimum wages are sorry...

I don't think the people earning minimum wages are sorry. It's just that the job one is doing pays what it's worth to the employer to have that job performed. Employers cannot afford to pay more than the job is worth no matter how much they would like to.

A job is not welfare. It's pay for performing a task.

The job market is tight right now because those running the federal government believe in Keynesian economic theory and not the free market. When we have free market at work (which is getting harder and harder as we get more people in DC who think they know more than the people our here in the real world do about work) unemployment is low.

There is an inverse relationship to government involvement and the employment rate: the more government involvement the lower the employment rate and vice versa. Centralized government planning of the economy has never worked and never will.

Just look at what's happening in North Dakota where starting wages are well into the double figures per hour just for McDonalds. If one wants a job they should go there. If there is not one in Augusta, go where one is.

My Daddy was a construction worker and he moved from location to location in order to follow where the work was. He and Mother pulled a trailer behind the car and went all over SC, GA, and FL following the work.

That is something Americans have gotten away from. We have a tendency to think we have to stay in one place and work there. There is work out there, but it may not be here.

Job hunting is just like fishing. You have to go where they are to catch them. They don't come to you.

geecheeriverman
2054
Points
geecheeriverman 03/16/14 - 06:45 am
3
8
I have a degree

"I have a degree and I've still haven't been successful in finding a job" A Degree can be bought for a dime a dozen. Sounds like RhondaAllDay365 may have bought hers off the Internet.

corgimom
31466
Points
corgimom 03/16/14 - 06:49 am
8
6
If things are booming in

If things are booming in Augusta, Countyman, why is the unemployment rate over 8%?

corgimom
31466
Points
corgimom 03/16/14 - 06:52 am
5
11
Dee Stafford, why do you say

Dee Stafford, why do you say nonsense like "something which Obama has no understanding since he has never had a job where he was responsible for anything but drawing a paycheck from the government"
when that's not true?

Riverman1
82436
Points
Riverman1 03/16/14 - 06:55 am
10
5
The Fairy Tale

Give them a raise to $100 an hour. Government can just mandate how much to pay them and everyone lives happily ever after.

geecheeriverman
2054
Points
geecheeriverman 03/16/14 - 07:07 am
12
5
Name the job

corgimon, tell me the job or jobs that Obama has had in the private sector. I do not know of them. He, like the "Rev's" Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton have no idea how the private sector is run. All they can do is fan the Racial flames of discontent and keep this country from moving forward.

corgimom
31466
Points
corgimom 03/16/14 - 07:18 am
5
14
geecheeriverman, he was a

geecheeriverman, he was a professor at the University of Chicago.

Quit believing everything you read on the nutcase blogs.

geecheeriverman
2054
Points
geecheeriverman 03/16/14 - 07:46 am
10
5
Funding

Corgimom: He was funded by a Federal Grant. Not exactly public funds. I do not form my opinion on "nutcase blogs"( your words, not mine.) I form an opinion by observing and listening. What I have seen and heard from this Obama Administration for the past 5 years scares the hell out of me. We are headed to Socialism. The USA has lost all respect from other countries. We used to be feared as a Nation, now we are being laughed at.

Little Lamb
45360
Points
Little Lamb 03/16/14 - 08:05 am
4
3
Inflation

So in 2009, with both houses of Congress led by Democrats and with a Democrat president, they raised the minimum wage. How did that work out for us? We suffered high unemployment throughout 2009, 2010, and 2011. The recovery from the recession was the slowest on record. We are still suffering high unemployment.

If the minimum wage is raised this soon after the last raise, you will see jobs all over the country disappear. Not a good idea.

scoobynews
3826
Points
scoobynews 03/16/14 - 08:23 am
7
3
Hate to tell Mr. Evans but I

Hate to tell Mr. Evans but I make 3 times his salary with three degrees and still barely make it every month. Movies and night out??? What is that??? Haven't been in months to do either due to no raise at my 40 hour a week job in over six years. It's hard on all of us.

LouP
13
Points
LouP 03/16/14 - 08:38 am
10
3
minimum wage facts

Ms McManus claims that raising the minimum wage would affect 20 million people. I don't know where Ms McManus got her facts about minimum wage, but I do know what the Bureau of Labor Statistics had to say. In their report "Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers" released in 2013 they stated that approximately 3.6 million people earned minimum wage in 2012. That's about 2.6 percent of the work force that year. about half of those were between the ages of 16 and 24 and many were working part time. Just like Obamacare, we are expected to impact all for a small minority. How did that work out last time? The fact is that the minimum wage is not meant to be a living wage. it is a minimum entry level wage for young part time workers and those not trained or educated enough to earn more. If you want to earn more you have to increase your value to an employer. Plain and simple.

seenitB4
85748
Points
seenitB4 03/16/14 - 08:49 am
7
3
Raise it to 10 bucks

It won't break the bank & it just might get some off EBT.......I agree with dee when he says---go where the fish are biting....& for goodness sake, use the right bait.

BTW, many posters on here came up in poor situations....we learned a lot...I lived on sweet potatoes--cornbread & peas for many years...so don't feel like the lone ranger.

Bizkit
30803
Points
Bizkit 03/16/14 - 09:06 am
8
2
Who doesn't need or want more

Who doesn't need or want more money as wages. Why would you ask? These stories are great cause it is the story of my wife and I, but because of those cruddy paying jobs, we got our education, worked hard and are now 1%. So the moral of the story is don't let that cruddy job define you cause you can rise above it. But if you assume that making more money will make all your financial issues disappear and no longer have any economic concerns you are too naive.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 03/16/14 - 09:15 am
0
0
If you have 3 degrees and
Unpublished

If you have 3 degrees and cannot find a job here, then you didn't plan well. This is Augusta.. just a bedroom community with a few decent places to work. Perhaps you need to move somewhere there are jobs that fit your skill set. Don't expect to find a Wall Street job in rural Georgia! - as for the minimum wage, it was originally thought to be a "starting wage" NOT a living wage. Blame greedy corporations for not paying a fair wage and putting as many employees as possible on part-time hours to avoid paying benefits.

SB3
3934
Points
SB3 03/16/14 - 09:18 am
8
4
Better answer

Get rid of minimum wage altogether. Let the market decide.

deestafford
26595
Points
deestafford 03/16/14 - 09:20 am
9
3
A few more points:

A few more points:

Obama was NOT a PROFESSOR. He was a lecturer who never wrote a paper nor participated in any faculty functions or discussions. It was as if he was there to just punch a ticket for resume enhancement.

There is a ripple effect of the minimum wage increase. If someone is now making $10 an hour because of their skills are worth that to the company and you raise the worker who is now worth only $7.50 an hour to $10.50 you are going to have to raise the first worker to over $12 to maintain the wage differential. You never hear this aspect discussed by the politicians or the talking heads of "experts" on TV.

If raising the minimum wage will get people out of poverty, why has it not done that in the past?

If one has only skills to earn minimum wage they should not have a family because they are unable to support a family.

When people decide to go to college they need to research what the prospects for meaningful financial compensation are for the degree they want to earn. If one gets a degree in areas such as Women's Studies, Black History, Middle English Literature, Political Science, Community Organizing, History, Urban Planning, General Studies, Computer Science, Journalism or Communications don't expect to get a job earning a lot of money---if you can find a job in those fields.

If one wants a degree in which the opportunities of employment are high one needs to get a degree in Science, Engineering, Math, or Technology.

Too many people get degrees in something that "feels good" or "that is what I'm interested in" without looking at the future of making a living working in that field.

ymnbde
9571
Points
ymnbde 03/16/14 - 09:22 am
5
5
oh, dear writer, is there no other side to this story?

could you not find it?
perhaps our sorry education system had something to do with it?
THREE SCHOOLS IN RICHMOND COUNTY
HAD ZERO STUDENTS PASS THE AP EXAMS LAST YEAR!
what is the minimum wage in China? if ours is more than that, plus shipping
more jobs will go to China, or Malaysia, or Mexico
is there nothing on the other side? you owe it to your profession to write of both sides
a machine can flip a burger and apply cheese
lettuce and tomatoes are a bit more difficult
but the flipping job will be done by a machine
THREE SCHOOLS IN RICHMOND COUNTY
HAD ZERO STUDENTS PASS THE AP EXAMS LAST YEAR!
oh, dear writer, there is a clue somewhere... if only we could find it
how many high school kids will choose to make the extra money
rather that waste time in school all day?
THREE SCHOOLS IN RICHMOND COUNTY
HAD ZERO STUDENTS PASS THE AP EXAMS LAST YEAR!
are you still looking?

Bizkit
30803
Points
Bizkit 03/16/14 - 09:23 am
4
1
Dee that is a major problem

Dee that is a major problem few youth want to endure the rigors of STEM fields and then of those who try few can handle it. I don't get this Flynn effect because I'm not seeing it in student performance-I'm thinking that data is from a ecological fallacy. Now lots of foreign students come here and enter STEM fields.

SB3
3934
Points
SB3 03/16/14 - 09:27 am
6
3
Another thing

For every one of the (attempted) heart-tugging stories they brought up here, they could find ten that aren't worth half minimum wage whining about circumstances they brought on themselves. A paper route should not be a career. Nor should a fast food worker job unless they plan on going into management or ownership one day.

Pretty soon they're going to want people to pay a "living wage" for cutting a single lawn or something. Not everything in the work market deserves a "living wage" (I hate that term with the passion of a thousand suns! It's a misleading catchphrase designed to prey on the gullible and misinformed.)

scoobynews
3826
Points
scoobynews 03/16/14 - 09:34 am
9
2
Kids barely want to study for

Kids barely want to study for history test and write papers for language arts much less the challenges of STEM. It's too " hard" and too much work. When schools started allowing kids to just turn in work when they felt like it that's when the chain reaction of laziness started. Now they think they can have $200 shoes without working because mommy and daddy buy them even if they are failing school or getting in trouble.

oldredneckman96
5067
Points
oldredneckman96 03/16/14 - 09:42 am
3
3
Flawed decisions
Unpublished

Every person behind each story here has made bad decisions. We all have made a bad choice at one time or another. First and foremost, some job has to be the bottom rung in pay that is how you have a top rung in pay. One thing is sure, as you raise a minimum wage the minimum cost of living goes up to matching it. This hurts the people who have retired and are living on a fixed income, your grandparents. It sends jobs overseas and eliminates good jobs here. Second, where is it written that one job or 40 hours a week is all you can work? Most successful people still work more than one job and much more than 40 hours. Last, learn from your mistakes, you do not have to repeat them.

deestafford
26595
Points
deestafford 03/16/14 - 10:00 am
5
3
If you talk with many employers...

If you talk with many employers about their interviews with potential hires they will tell you how the main questions are about sick leave, vacation, health insurance and other benefits. Very seldom does the person want to know what they can do to make the company more successful and profitable, what they have to do to progress in the company and what are the things the most successful people in the company do that makes them successful.

When some of the people are hired they have trouble being on time and putting in a full day's work or dressing properly. Too many think the purpose of a job is something that is there to support them. Those who come in and work hard and try to make the company more successful are the ones who rapidly advance beyond minimum wage and move up in the company.

By the way, working hard and long in support of the company is not possible when the union is involved. The pace of work is only what is written in the contract.

If want wants to advance all they have to do is be the first one at work and the last one to leave on a daily basis and out work everyone in between.

The more you give the employer, the more the employer will give you.

jimmymac
37210
Points
jimmymac 03/16/14 - 10:46 am
1
0
WAGES
Unpublished

What a job is worth is what the pay should be. The fact is most minimum workers bring very little to the table. Minimum wage jobs were never intended to provide a "living wage". They exist to give people an understanding of what they'll need to move on in life. I never worked a 40 hour workweek in my 40+ years of work. There are thousands of jobs not filled because workers are untrained and unmotivated to get training to take those jobs. I echo the statement that when interviewing prospective employees most are more interested in benefits for themselves than what they'll bring to the employer. They come in wearing street clothes and many don't have a resume or even an understanding of what will be expected of them if they're hired. Trade schools once popular now nearly don't exist but the job skills are much in demand. Too many haven't prepared themselves with job skills but want to stand at a fast food counter and get paid like a skilled worker.

Bizkit
30803
Points
Bizkit 03/16/14 - 10:48 am
1
2
Dang Oldredneck great posit-I

Dang Oldredneck great posit-I agree. Sorry if I offended you the other day-didn't mean to be uncivil. My apologies.

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