Into the World of a Living Wage


Yesterday was my final day of work at my minimum wage job. Monday I start working some place new. I switched jobs because the pay; even with all of the fabulous vacation time and insurance and 401K, $8.25 simply isn’t enough to allow me any living beyond my basic necessities. I stayed for four months, hoping for a raise or promotion. Most of the people there do not speak fluent English, or have even a high school education. The only language that I can say I speak is English. I have some education beyond high school, and even some work experience that, in my eyes, would make me a good prospect for a leadership position. I gave my best effort, and was told often that I was very smart, and I felt incredibly valued there. My coworkers loved me, I have made many good memories working with them, and even though we could not always communicate verbally, we came to know each other.

The only person who made me feel vaguely unwelcome was my supervisor. Besides myself, he was the only other white person in the department. I think that the company keeps the assembly department staffed with people who don’t speak English, and/or who aren’t educated, with purpose; this means they have an excuse to keep paying them a dismal wage. The more apparent my capability became, the more uncomfortable he seemed to be with me, and I really feel that although he paid me many compliments and was very kind when I left my notice, he was relieved in some sense.

This would only be the third time in my life (and out of probably 20 or so jobs) that I have left a notice. Usually I am terrible with goodbyes. A recent boss baited me with raises and promotions, and said everything he could think of to make me feel guilty, until I agreed to stay on. Said job, and many others, I have disappeared from, leaving tearfully, in some kind of conflict. Handling the social awkwardness of quitting is a new skill in my tool kit. I can say that making the effort to properly disembark has paid off.

It took four months for the employment agency to get back to me with something worthwhile. I applied there before I began working this most recent job. They only had second of third shift positions available for me, and I am done working nights. So I agreed to sign on at the company where my boyfriend works. Whenever they need people (which is often), he mentions something to me, but I never went for it, because what person over the age of sixteen wants to make minimum wage? I’ll tell you who, a desperate person- when it was harder than I anticipated to find something reasonable, I said okay to $8.25, eight hour days with no overtime (aside from the occasional Saturday), air conditioning, a chair to sit down in, paid vacation, and health insurance. Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good deal considering the easiness of the work.

I received a call from the employment agency a couple of days ago. I didn’t anticipate anything worthwhile, but I thought that I would at least see what they had. It turned out to be $12.00/ hour, and first shift. I had to agree to come in on Monday (three working days away), or they would give the job away to someone else.

After I took a drug test and went over the specifics with the manager at the employment agency, I was on my way to tell my current boss that I would not be there on Monday. I had intense butterflies in my stomach; I had no idea how he would react.

He was understanding, and said that I did a good job and that they would miss me. But it really didn’t appear to bother him at all… like I said I think he prefers to keep the department homogeneously immigrant.

My other coworkers were surprisingly emotional. Tears welled up in their eyes, and mine in turn, as I explained to them the best that I could that I would no longer be working with them. I had no idea they are as fond of me as I am of them. They asked, “more money?” and I nodded in response. They are happy for me, and proud of me. They told me that I am so smart, a very good worker, and that I am sure to succeed in my new endeavor. The more matronly ladies made sure to tell me how sweet I am, that I am very cute and have beautiful eyes, and that they love me. I made a giant batch of cupcakes for my last day, and they fed me lunch when I realized that I hadn’t made myself one because I spent all night and morning baking and frosting.

I have never had such a send off. I have learned the value of taking time to say good bye. And I will miss those people. They were so kind and welcoming to me, and so proud and grateful to be here in America.




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