The plight of service-industry workers has once again come to the forefront with the tragic recent death of Maria Fernandes.
A 32-year-old Dunkin’ Doughnuts employee who worked three jobs in New Jersey, Fernandes died while napping in her S.U.V. when a gas can she had kept in the back fell over and filled the car with fumes.
Though a Dunkin’ Doughnuts spokesperson would later tell the New York Times that Fernandes was “a model employee,” her pay was so low that she had trouble making her $US550 monthly rent, even as she shuttled between three of the store’s locations and worked so hard that she only had time to sleep two or three hours at a time in her car.
The Times reports that Fernandes had stored the gas can in her car because she didn’t want to risk waking up to an empty tank when she had to make it to work on time.
The incident made us think about how in so many places, minimum wage isn’t nearly enough money for someone to live a healthy life, even if they are extremely determined and conscientious.
We used MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which estimates the cost of living in a given area based on the price of various necessities, to better understand just how many hours a low-wage worker like Fernandes would have had to put in every week to make ends meet.
According to MIT’s calculations, living in Newark, where Fernandes did, would require an annual pre-tax income of $US22,528. That means that at New Jersey’s minimum wage, $US8.25, a worker would have to put in a little more than 52 hours a week.
While this number doesn’t seem like much to salaried employees who regularly work more than 40 hours a week, it’s important to consider that many low-wage workers are cobbling together multiple part-time gig that require significant travel time, as opposed to a situation where they simply need to keep working at their desks for a few extra hours every day.
MIT’s projections for how hard you’d have to work to make it in nearby Manhattan are even scarier. It calculates that New Yorkers would need to bring in $US26,521 a year to make ends meet.
On New York’s minimum wage of $US8.00 an hour, a person would have to work nearly 64 hours a week to make that much money.
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