She came here from Guyana 28 years ago to pursue the American Dream, but even though she often works to the point of exhaustion, she cannot get ahead. Despite working six days a week, her $10 hourly wage keeps her trapped near the poverty line.
She lives in a small apartment in Canarsie, where she is raising her 17-year-old son, a high school senior who plans to attend college next year if they can afford the tuition.
“Ten dollars is just not enough to survive,” she says. “A $15 minimum wage would give me and my son room to breathe. I truly love my job caring for seniors, I don’t need to be rich. I just need to make a living wage so I can feed my son and give him the opportunities I never had.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced his strong support for a $15 statewide minimum wage, but it still needs to be passed by the State Legislature in the spring.
Over 70,000 homecare workers in the New Yorker City area, and many other caregivers in the state’s hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and pharmacies work long, hard days for poverty pay. Because of our aging population, homecare has become the fastest-growing job in America, and healthcare is the fastest-growing industry.
These are the jobs of the future, and they must be good middle-class jobs for working New Yorkers. Worsening income inequality – greater in New York than almost anywhere in the U.S. – is threatening our bedrock values and dragging down our economy.
There is massive wealth being created in New York and across the nation, but working people are struggling to get by while almost all the new income is going to the top 1 percent. The richest 400 Americans now have more wealth than the entire poorest half of the country, or 150 million people.
Economists say that raising up low-wage workers will help grow the economy, because they will immediately spend their earnings on basic necessities.
But this issue is not just about our economy, it is also about the heart, soul and character of our city. What has made us the greatest city in the world is that people come from all over to pursue their passions and build a better life for their families.
New York should continue to be a place where everyone can thrive, including working people, immigrants, writers, musicians, artists, students and seniors, not just the wealthy few.
It is Patricia’s hope, and the hope of healthcare workers throughout New York, that legislators will do the right thing for the future of our city and state, and pass a $15 minimum wage.
George Gresham is president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.