March 4, 2021

the challenge of living earning $ 7.25 per hour

Thousands of workers in the United States enjoy an increase in their paychecks this week, but many workers in 21 states have spent almost ten years with the federal minimum wage frozen at $ 7.25 barely enough to survive.

"It's not enough for anything, it's as if the money was taken away by the wind, after paying the rent and sending something to El Salvador, sometimes I can not even eat," says Walter Tellez.

Just crossed the southern border of the country in 2011, Tellez settled in Alabama, one of the 21 states that is governed by the federal minimum wage of 7.25 dollars per hour.

"Since I arrived that has been the payment per hour, I have never been raised or a" cora "(twenty-five cents)," says this Salvadoran who has worked in farms and construction.

In all these years the immigrant believed that his employers were breaking the minimum wage law because he is undocumented.

But Tellez did not know that this July 24 will be 10 years since the last minimum wage increase was made, which will be the longest period that workers have lived without obtaining an increase in the federal minimum wage since the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established it in 1938.

A deep contrast if compared to several areas of the country that increased their minimum wage since Monday. In Berkeley, California, the increase reached $ 15.59 an hour, while in the capital of the country the hour is paid at $ 14 and Chicago went up to 13.

More humble are the payments in states like New Jersey, which since Monday have a minimum wage of $ 10 per hour or Oregon, where it rose to 11 in rural areas and 12.50 in the city of Portland.

In any case, far from what the Salvadoran charges, who explains that he has to work at least 50 hours a week, divided into two different jobs, to earn a little over a thousand net dollars a month.

With this money, he pays 320 dollars for a small room, an amount of 200 dollars that he sends to El Salvador to support his wife and three children, and he has about 300 left over for gasoline and food, in which he invests 5 dollars. up to date.

A recent study by the National Employment Law Project assures that, with the effect of inflation, the 7.25 dollars of the minimum wage would actually represent 6.11 dollars at present, a sum not even reached by the Mexican Daniel Hernández in Georgia, where the state minimum wage is $ 5.15 per hour.

"Necessity forces one to accept, there is no other, but sometimes I feel that I earn less here than in Mexico," laments this undocumented laborer who arrived in the country five years ago.

Hernandez wants to move to California or Texas, where the minimum wage is higher, but he has not been able to raise the money to pay for the ticket. Meanwhile, he lives in an old trailer with other immigrants and for which he pays 80 dollars a month, which does not give him the right to electricity or water.

For those migrants who already have a work permit, the economic situation is not so different. Ana María Ávila lives almost two decades ago in Milwaukee, in the state of Wisconsin, and her economic situation barely exceeds Tellez by a few dollars.

"Once they gave me a 'ticket' (traffic ticket) of $ 500. In those days I was only working to pay the police," explains Avila.

Between the rent of a house with two rooms, the telephone payment, the internet and the electricity bill that arrives for 150 dollars, Ávila and her husband spend more than 1,100 dollars.

The immigrant from Veracruz says she stops buying fruit or good meat for sending her elderly parents $ 200 a month to Mexico.

And forget about big expenses. Both drive old cars. Hers is from 2004 and the one from Tellez is from 2001 and every time he gets hurt the savings go away.

"I do not want to lose it, because if there is not enough for rent, I'll stay (live) in the car," says the 36-year-old immigrant.

Going to the beauty salon is a luxury for her. He also does not go on vacation, he does not know beyond his city and to save Christmas gifts he saves for four months.

The last time he went to a chain restaurant he paid $ 50, and he thought he wasted the money. "That's for the rich," he says.

But what hurts the Mexican most is that with her salary she can not help her son pay for college. The 19-year-old works to pay for his clothes and try to save for his studies.

Therefore, Ávila is part of the campaigns of the organization Voces de La Frontera that seeks Wisconsin to approve an increase to reach $ 15 an hour, an increase of $ 7.75 with respect to the salary with which they are now governed.

"That's my dream, at least I could pay for health, or medicines," he says.

And for many it is almost impossible to think about going to the doctor. "I had to get into debt to have my teeth removed because it was hard to fix it," the Salvadoran man says with resignation.

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