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Roundtable looks at minimum wage’s impacts

Mary Beth Maxwell acting deputy administrator Wage Hour DivisiU.S. Department Labor (left) talks with William Ivey code enforcement worker from

Mary Beth Maxwell, acting deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, (left) talks with William Ivey, a code enforcement worker from Gary, (center) and Aisha Feliciano, a certified nursing assistant from East Chicago, (right) during a roundtable discussion about President Barack Obama's proposal to raise the minimum wage at Sojourner Truth House in Gary, Ind. Wednesday March 20, 2013. Maxwell facilitated the discussion. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 22, 2013 12:08PM



GARY — Gary resident William Ivey works three jobs — one full-time and two part-time — to support himself and his family, but he said it’s frustrating to work that hard and still live paycheck to paycheck.

“We need to stop saying, ‘I’m just getting by’ and start saying, ‘I’m making it,’” Ivey said.

Ivey and other Gary residents spoke of the struggles of living on minimum wage at a roundtable with U.S. Department of Labor officials Wednesday morning at Sojourner Truth House in Gary. They spoke of not being able to meet the bills each month, undependable transportation, and missing out on buying their kids new shoes.

It’s one of 20 roundtables the department will hold over the next six weeks in an effort to support President Barack Obama’s State of the Union proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.

Mary Beth Maxwell, acting deputy administrator for the department’s Wage and Hour Division, started the discussion by asking participants to detail their struggles.

“It is time for us to reward work,” Maxwell said. “We don’t enough hear about how people are really impacted.”

Rozeda Jones works as a certified nursing assistant to support herself and her two children.

“I can’t even make it paycheck to paycheck, and I rely on Sojourner Truth House for assistance,” Jones said. “It’s very embarrassing and discouraging. I cry at night because I go to work and my kids wonder why I can’t buy them a new pair of shoes.”

Lachelle, who didn’t wish to give her last name, was emotional when describing her situation.

“I make $2.13 an hour plus tips as a server, and my whole salary is based on what people leave me,” she said. “I lost my house and live in a shelter. I have three kids, and I basically work every day. Whatever I have to do, I do it for them.”

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson said she would communicate with state officials about residents’ frustration with barriers they encounter at WorkOne.

“Training barriers are part of the story to tell,” she said.

When Maxwell asked what they would do with an extra $70 per week, the answers were modest: have money for a child’s field trip, tithe more at church, pay off a NIPSCO bill.

Maxwell said the proposal would only get citizens to a 1980s level of buying power at a time when everything — gas, groceries, utilities — is getting more expensive.

“President Obama also supports indexing the minimum wage to inflation, so it won’t lag behind,” she said. “These are proud people who want to be able to support their families on their own.”



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