ADELINA: Caring for a Family of Five on the Minimum Wage

Nov. 6, 2016

Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave Story

Adelina Lopez is a devoted churchgoer, an active volunteer for the immigrant community, and a caretaker to her family. She worked the morning shift in a fast food restaurant for six months, making the Arizona minimum wage without any paid sick leave. Although she says she enjoyed learning to work in a kitchen, the work was exhausting. She spent so many hours standing, her feet ached at the end of every day.  Most of all, money presented a constant struggle.

Working for the minimum wage, she supported two children and both of her parents. Both her mother and father have health conditions that require Adelina to monitor their diets and make sure that they are safe every day. She never bought clothes for herself, she always fell behind on bills, and she worried often about how to get enough food to sustain the four people depending on her for survival.  She worked overtime whenever she could.

“It just wasn’t enough,” she said. “It was always either paying bills, rent, or buying food.” She says that the hardest part of working for the minimum wage is is that there is no room for error; you need every penny you earn to cover the essentials. “You need shelter and you need water…food, [and] basic needs.”

If something happened to the children or parents while she was at work, Adelina would have to leave and take care of the situation, losing pay for the hours that she had to be absent. She had no choice, since she is the only one that can take care of the people who depend on her.

Adelina would love to return to school to study social services. The one thing that prevents her from going to school is money. These days, Adelina makes $11.00 an hour at a new job. That amount helps with bills, food, and rent, she says, but there is still no money left over for school or anything else extra, including emergencies. “When it comes to actually planning something, it’s not enough,” she says. “If I wanted to take a vacation with my family, or get a better car, it’s just not enough.”

“It doesn’t make sense how prices go up for everything, but the minimum wage stays the same,” she says. “How do you expect a family to survive on that, when prices for food and gas are going up?”

When asked how she managed to take care of so many responsibilities during her time working for the minimum wage, she says, “I seriously have no idea. I thank God. He helped me a lot.”