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
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.


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.”


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 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.


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.”


• 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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countyman 03/16/14 - 11:39 am

The unemployment rate of metro Augusta is 7.4% and the unemployment rate is one of the last indicators of job growth.. All of those developments in my previous comment are under construction and they won't affect the unemployment rate until late 2014/early 2015...

I don't want to get into another debate, because some people already have their feelings towards Augusta set in stone.. Let's stick to the facts, because developers always follow the money... The Michael Kors, outlet mall, H&M, Whole Foods, Cabela's, a movie theater, DSW, HomeGoods, Texas Roadhouse, Genghis Grill, etc were announced within one year..

I know certain people don't want to believe Augusta is growing much faster, but you can't deny the progress. I haven't even mentioned the Palmetto Propane distribution facility coming to Doug Barnard in South Augusta.

itsanotherday1 03/16/14 - 11:57 am
Jobs available

A LONG list of jobs in the area:

"Can't find a living wage job" is pure malarkey. The jobs are there if you are willing to gain the qualifications for them.

Bizkit 03/16/14 - 01:33 pm
Corgia Obama was never a

Corgia Obama was never a professor on tenure track or anything like that he was a lecturer. That isn't a full faculty position=more a sabbatical as it states he was writing his book. It was a part time job at most.
" In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School to work on his first book.[44][45] He then taught at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years—as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004—teaching constitutional law.[46]

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/16/14 - 02:28 pm

Obama lectured about his disdain for The Constitution. The students (and their parents who paid good tuition money at U. of Chicago) listening to Obama talk about the Constitution were cheated of an unbiased education.

RMSHEFF 03/16/14 - 04:21 pm
There is no other issue that

There is no other issue that better highlights the ignorance of free market economics of those who support increases in the minimum wage. Wages in a free market economy are driven by supply and demand. Employers must pay a sufficient wage in order to attract people who are qualified and willing to work for the offered wage. If you overpay for labor or any other cost necessary to produce goods or services you will not stay in business. This is easily tested by asking those who support increasing the minimum....Why not increase the minimum wage to $30 an hour so no one would need any form of public assistance? Even the most staunch supporters of increasing the minimum wage recognize that this would not work. Always remember that in economics, if you increase the cost of anything, businesses will use less of it and that includes labor. This issue has only come up to distract from Obamacare and the poor economy and is being used to rally the low information voters.

Gage Creed
Gage Creed 03/16/14 - 05:10 pm
FACTS are pesky things!

Hey countyman... tell us about Olin... DSM.... IFF.... Proctor and Gamble.

corgimom 03/16/14 - 05:59 pm
Deestafford, those questions

Deestafford, those questions are not inappropriate.

Back in the mid 90's, I interviewed for a job as accountant at a local furniture retailer. My father was elderly and I knew that at any time I might need to go to California.

I was told that I would be needed every day, I would not be allowed any sick days (I had a child at home, too) and that they could "maybe" give me 1 or 2 days off every year.

I said no thank you.

And do you know they called me back twice to see if I would change my mind, because "they couldn't get anybody to take the position"?

And that was not unusual, Augusta employers are notoriously bad about giving sick days or vacation pay- as if people were machines that never got sick, never had a family emergency, never wanted to visit their family.

That's why people in Augusta ask, they know the deal.

However, YOU had sick days, YOU had vacation pay, YOU had benefits- but you seem to think that other people shouldn't.

I hired people, and if an interviewee asked me what they could do to make my company more profitable, I would've looked at them as if they had two heads- I wouldn't tell anybody that wasn't an employee any confidential information about my company, who in their right mind would? I would view them as schemers and climbers if they had asked me in a job interview how to advance in the company, as if they wouldn't be satisfied with the position that I wanted to hire them for, and I would view it as inappropriate for a non-employee to want to know what successful employees did. Because you never know where that interviewee is going to go next, and the competition is stiff. I would never disclose such things to someone that was not an employee.

Gage Creed
Gage Creed 03/16/14 - 06:11 pm
@ Corgi... So apparently you

@ Corgi... So apparently you did not "need" the job so you could be selective.

You could not have told them as other posters have mentioned... be the first one here, the last one to leave, and give an honest days work for an honest days pay?

Bulldog 03/16/14 - 06:34 pm
Did not prepare

The common thread that runs through all these stories is the failure to prepare for real life. There seems to be an echo around here; "there are no jobs". There are plenty of jobs going wanting, that pay very well, but not for these people who failed to prepare for them...

KSL 03/16/14 - 07:42 pm

Obama was no more a professor at U of C than my father was at UGA the year after he graduated from law school.

KSL 03/16/14 - 07:50 pm
Sorry, biz.I started my post

Sorry, biz.I started my post before supper. Didn't see your post before hitting the button.

justthefacts 03/16/14 - 08:23 pm

It is a great trait for a potential applicant. Unless the interviewer is threatened.

deestafford 03/16/14 - 08:43 pm
cogi, You see if I'm being interviewed...

cogi, You see, if I'm being interviewed for a job I want that person interviewing me to know that across the table from him sits someone not wanting to merely occupy a slot but a person who wants to make the company as successful as my skills and abilities allow.

I want him to know that satisfying their need is my number one priority not how many sick days or vacation days I get. That discussion will come later. And when it does if I'm not happy we'll shake hands and I'll go somewhere else; but, the first thing I want to impress upon him is there is a man sitting there willing to bust his butt for the company.

You see, I'm selfish and I want to take care of my family and our needs so I'm going to let the interviewer know I'll do my best to out work anyone on their payroll. When I do that I'll make more money because I'll produce more and be more valuable to the company.

When I entered the work force there was no such thing as sick leave and not every job came with a vacation. It was called "work" for a reason. We didn't have "careers" and "positions" or bosses who cared about our "feelings".

My Daddy and people like him built this country into the number one economic entity in history and he passed that on to me. We had no time and place for metrosexuals and men wearing mommy jeans like the current occupant in the White House trying to run people's lives.

corgimom 03/16/14 - 10:13 pm
Gage Creed, I didn't need

Gage Creed, I didn't need that job that bad. That was a crappy job, and nobody wanted it, either.

As any working mother will tell you, kids get sick, and somebody has to stay home with them.

As I have stated on other posts, I started out selling plants and rose to be the comptroller and CFO of a business in Augusta that all of you would recognize the name- and I didn't get it by shirking my job. 50, 60, 70 hour weeks were the norm.

corgimom 03/16/14 - 10:29 pm
Sure, Deestafford, you shake

Sure, Deestafford, you shake hands and go work for somebody else.

And the next employer says, "Why did you leave your job after such a short time?"

So your brilliant plan wouldn't work. It also is not fair to an employer, to start a job, have the employer incur training costs, and then up and quit because you didn't like the benefits- which you could've found out when you interviewed. Employers don't like that, either, because they have to start the hiring process all over again, over something that could've been prevented.

Good luck with that plan of yours.

As for you wanting to outwork anybody on the payroll, I wouldn't hire you. Because you would cause dissention and bad feelings and you wouldn't be liked, you wouldn't fit in. You would not be a team player, and that's critical to work success.

Here's what I looked for. Could they do the job? Could they fit in to my workplace, with the experienced people already in place, or are they likely to cause problems? Will they fit into the corporate culture? Again, are they a team player or do they just look out for #1?

And I would look at you and think, "He's going to cause problems, I'm not going to hire him."

Because I wouldn't want my experienced people to quit because they couldn't stand the new guy. And I've seen it happen, I've done it myself, and it is one of the best ways to blow up your business.

It takes a lot of time and effort to build a good, experienced team in a business, and no employer is going to want to see that explode. Team work is what gets jobs done today, it's critical, and being a person that gets along with everybody is key. It's easy to find people to do the job, it's finding one that fits in that's hard.

Because if I hire somebody that nobody likes, nobody wants to work with, and my people start threatening to quit, the newbie will go out the door, so they can go somewhere else and "outwork" everybody.

corgimom 03/16/14 - 10:31 pm
And in regards to the

And in regards to the furniture store- in Accounting, one of the basic principles of internal control is that the accountant, the one handling the money, takes a mandatory week off (and two is better) per year. I knew if they didn't do that, they were a poorly run business, that they weren't professional, and I didn't want any part of them. I knew that they didn't know what they were doing.

corgimom 03/16/14 - 10:38 pm
Bulldog, when I came back to

Bulldog, when I came back to Augusta, I had a degree, I had lots of accounting experience, I had supervisory experience- and there were very few jobs available.

Augusta is unique. Because it's close to two state capitals, where businesses are likely to locate, Augusta is too close to them to be a branch office or a division. But it also is too small to be a regional division of a company.

Augusta is relatively hard to get to- one of the reasons why Electrolux relocated- and it only has one freeway.

There are very few manufacturing jobs in Augusta any more.

When person after person after person reports difficulty in finding a good-paying job in Augusta, there's a reason. And when former Army soldiers can't find good-paying jobs, it's because there aren't any, because employers are likely to hire them.

Bulldog, what are these good-paying jobs that you are referring to?

deestafford 03/16/14 - 10:43 pm
Cogi, I'm sorry I was not specific enough for you...

Cogi, I'm sorry I was not specific enough for you when I said we'd shake hands and I'd walk away. That would occur in the latter stage of the interview before I accepted the job. My point was that was not the number one thing I wanted the interviewer to think was my interest. I wanted him to know that my number one goal was to help make the company more successful within my area of responsibilities.

As far as offending others by working harder than anyone else goes...that can be done without offending and without giving the appearance of a superior attitude or an air of "I'm better than you".

It's possible to work hard without offending people. Maybe that concept is difficult for liberals to understand. I never have had to back up to the pay table because I did not give a good day's work for a good day's pay.

You see when I work for someone my time and all my effort belongs to them when I'm on their clock and I'm obligated to give them the best that I have. Anything less is cheating them and cheating myself. That is why I could never be in a union. In a union it sets the pace of work to the slowest level acceptable within a contract.

See, it's possible to do all of this and be a team player. You see the more people you get in the boat with you the less likely they are to drill a hole in it. It is possible to do your job well, not be arrogant, and not make your "team" members enemies.

dgleaton 03/17/14 - 11:46 am
corgimom: are you really

corgimom: are you really that misinformed about Obama's "credentials"?

oldredneckman96 03/19/14 - 12:50 pm

Bizkit, I would be offended if everyone agreed with me all the time. The point of this is post ideas and get feed back on them. I do not want "yes" men, I do want to hear valid arguments to all sides.

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