Rahway woman says minimum-wage job forces tough choices

By. Tom Wright-Piersanti


ROSELLE — When Mia Powell moved from North Carolina to New Jersey two years ago, she wasn’t aware how severe the cost-of-living increase would be, let alone how difficult it would be to get by on just her minimum-wage paychecks.

“Everything here is so expensive,” said Powell. “I never knew it would cost $15 to take a cab just down the street to the next town.”

Powell, a 23-year-old Rahway resident, works for minimum wage at a Taco Bell in Roselle where she said makes between $200 and $300 every two weeks, depending on how many hours the restaurant can offer.

“In North Carolina I started working when I turned 15, and that’s when minimum wage was $5-something,” she said. “I’ve been working minimum wage all my life, it seems.”

On Nov. 5, New Jerseyans will vote on whether to amend the state Constitution to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25, followed by automatic annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index.

Proponents say an increase would help employees improve their standard of living.

Opponents say it would force businesses already operating on thin profit margins to raise prices and cut staff, creating an even worse situation for those on the bottom rung of the career ladder.

“The money has to come from somewhere,” said Michael Saltsman, research director at Employment Policies Institute, a business-backed think tank.

Raising the minimum wage, he said, “would be harmful to both the state’s employers and employees, and will hurt the least-skilled job seekers the most” in an economy where 26 percent of teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 already are unemployed.

Democrats in the state Legislature put the question to voters after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed their effort to pass an increase through legislation, saying the state is too financially weak to handle it.

Powell plans to start school at Stanford-Brown College this year to get a degree in medical billing and coding, a decision she said was propelled by her minimum wage jobs in a few ways — along the desire for a higher-paying job, student loans from community colleges she attended previously would start demanding payments soon unless she was still enrolled in school.

She said can’t afford a car with New Jersey’s high insurance rates, so she relies on the buses and rides from relatives. And she still lives with her dad, which saves money but stifles her independence.

One co-worker asked her to move into an apartment, but the rent was $425 — nearly what she earns in a month.

“My stepmom started doing my budget and she was like, ‘Well Mia, you don’t have the money, and I don’t want you working paycheck to paycheck because you’re not gonna get anywhere,’ ” she said.

“I want to move so bad, but it’s just like, there are no jobs, and the only jobs out there are the same minimum wage, the same story,” she said.

Powell said she wishes she could enjoy her mid-20s more, going out on weekends and making some friends in her new home state. But the money she earns forces her to choose between fun and a phone bill.

“I do go out sometimes, but then I have to make it through the week,” she said. “So you gotta ball on a budget.”
Original article

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