Cleaner Pins Hopes on N.J.’s Proposed Minimum Wage Increase

Last week we linked to a profile in El Diario La Prensa of María Pichardo, a single mother in the Bronx who works as a cashier at a supermarket for minimum wage, and struggles to make ends meet. This week, the New Jersey state Assembly voted in favor of a bill that would increase that state’s minimum wage to $8.50, from $7.25. The bill still requires approval from the state Senate and Gov. Chris Christie’s signature.

To illustrate the situation of minimum-wage workers, Women’s eNews recently told the story of Rosalina Miranda, a 50-year-old Salvadorian New Jersey resident who cleans several office buildings and private houses for $7.25 an hour.

There are nearly 25,000 maids and housekeeping workers in New Jersey, according to 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The vast majority are women. Like Miranda, many have left their homelands to scratch out a living and send money back to their families.

For Miranda, a green card and 26 years in the country give her some security, but limited English skills and no formal education offer few other work options.

“I work like a crazy person,” Miranda said in Spanish. “But if I stop working, I get tired. I have to keep moving.”

The financial payoff for working like crazy is minimal.

“I’ve been with this company 15 years,” said Miranda. In all those years she’s never had a raise. She earns the New Jersey minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, with no health benefits, paid sick days or vacation. The only benefit provided by the employer is temporary disability coverage, which is required by state law.

Miranda’s situation is not uncommon among Latina women, Women’s eNews reports.

Nationally, Latina women’s wages lag behind counterparts. In 2011 the median weekly earnings for Latina women was $518, compared with $703 for white women, $595 for black women and $751 for Asian women, according to the federal Current Population Survey, which is sponsored jointly by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a single mother, Miranda, like many housekeepers and maids, left her homeland to make a living and to support three daughters that she left behind.

When she came to the United States, her daughters were 4, 5 and 6. The youngest is now 30 years old. The three were raised by Miranda’s grandmother back in El Salvador and two of her uncles and have stayed in close contact with their mother.

As for the proposal to raise the minimum wage, Miranda joked to Women’s eNews, “If they increase it, I hope I’m the first one to get the raise.” But she’s not counting on that happening.

In time, Miranda hopes to join her daughters and grandson in El Salvador. She dreams of one day opening a beauty salon with her youngest daughter. She doesn’t see herself retiring anytime soon though.

“Yo soy como una hormiguita,” she said. In English, “I’m like a little ant, always working.”

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