24 Hours with a Minimum-Wage Worker
The declining living standards of the US working class in these recent times of global recession still hold out as surprising revelations at a time when the rest of the world is still hoodwinked into believing firmly in the American dream. Presented hereunder is the typical routine in the day-to-day life of an average employee in the US today, as narrated to BLAKE ELLIS.
Often clocking 16-hour days, Norma Marin, 34, works two part-time jobs at McDonald‘s in Chicago to support her family. She earns $8.90 an hour at one job and $8.55 an hour at the other. A single mother of three, Marin moved to the United States from Ecuador 12 years ago. She lives with her two sisters and her 7-year-old daughter, Lissbeth. Meanwhile, her two sons, ages 15 and 17, still live in Ecuador with her mother. Marin sends back as much money as she can to help with their expenses – usually around $300 to $400 per month.
Here are journal entries from a day in her life: Translated from Spanish by the fast food employees’ union, Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, that Marin belongs to.
I get up a little earlier than usual today so I can make lunch for my daughter (rice and chicken) and get her school uniform out and ready for her to wear today. My daughter, Lissbeth, is in the second grade. I then shower and get ready for work.
I get on the bus at 4:30 a.m. so I can make it to work by 5 a.m. It takes about 20 minutes to get to a bus stop by my job and then I have to walk another 5 minutes to get to work. Sometimes the bus runs late, so I leave a little earlier to make sure I don’t get to work late.
I clock in at 5 a.m. at McDonald’s. Lissbeth, is still sleeping by the time I get to work. My sister watches her in the mornings and some afternoons. I hope she has a good breakfast and remembers to finish her homework. I start working by cleaning the bathroom. There are five different stalls that I need to wipe down and clean the floor [of].
I run to the bathroom and call my daughter to make sure she gets up in time for school and let her know I will be picking her up after school today.
I go on my lunch around 11 a.m. and get a 20-minute break. I get asked to come back 10 minutes early so I can help with the lunch rush.
We have a really busy lunch rush today. I’m trying to make the food as quickly as I can, but I am having a hard time with all the customers because there’s only two of us in the kitchen when usually there are four of us.
I finish up here at my first job around 1 p.m. and hop on the bus to go pick up my daughter from school.
I pick up Lissbeth from school and we walk home together. We get home and I help her start her homework, make her a snack and prepare a quick dinner for her to eat later.
My sister Rosa gets home from her McDonald’s job and is going to watch my daughter so I can get back on the bus and get to work.
I get to my second McDonald’s job around 4 p.m. and clock in to begin my shift. I start by putting french fries in the fryer and cleaning the prep area in the kitchen.
The dinner rush starts. I do my best to get the food out more quickly, but there aren’t enough us in the kitchen to do all the work necessary to get the food out in time.
I go on break and call my daughter to see if she’s finished up her homework and needs me to pick up anything for her when I get off of work. I begin thinking about the school supplies my daughter told me she needed earlier and how I’m going to be able to pay for them.
I go back to work and [find out] I have to stay until 12 a.m. tonight, when I was supposed to get out at 11, because an employee is out sick and can’t start the overnight shift in time. I say ok, even though I really don’t like staying later than 11 because it’s hard to catch a bus home late at night.
I clock out and wait for the bus so I can go home. As I’m waiting for the bus, I try and stay awake because I’m so tired.
The bus arrives and I get on it. On my way home, I call my two sons back in Ecuador and see how they’re doing. My one son asks me if I’ve sent him money [for school and food]. I tell him yes, even though I haven’t been able to come up with it yet. I get off the phone with them, and begin wondering how I’m going to come up with the money to send to my two sons back in Ecuador for school and food.