Living on minimum wage

October 17, 2014

Delores Leonard is a 28 year-old single mother raising two daughters Erin, 6, and Emmarie, 8, on the South Side of Chicago. She’s been a fast food worker at a McDonald’s restaurant for 7 years and makes $8.25 an hour. It’s her only source of work income and she’s never made more than minimum wage working at the drive-thru window.

Delores Leonard helps her daughter Erin with her homework at the breakfast table.  REUTERS/Jim Young

I have covered several organized protests by fast food workers over the last year in Chicago, but wanted to take a closer look at how people balance their lives and finances as a worker living on minimum wage. I arrive at her house before sunrise and she is already up getting breakfast for her two girls, helping daughter Erin with her homework and getting them dressed for school.

Delores Leonard helps her daughter Erin with her homework during breakfast.

Delores walks them to school before jumping on the first of two buses she takes to get to work, about an hour away at a McDonald’s restaurant in the Hyde Park neighborhood; only about a mile from President Obama’s personal residence.

Delores Leonard (C) walks her daughters Emmarie (L) and Erin to school.

Delores Leonard rides a bus to her work.

Delores Leonard working at the drive-thru window.

Delores Leonard leans on a fence as she waits for her bus after working a shift.

After work, it’s back on the bus to swing by a grocery store to get some food for dinner. She gets some help with food stamps and says she see a lot of things on the shelves but limits her purchases for the day; she doesn’t have a car so she has to carry everything home in bags.

Delores Leonard shops for groceries.

A recent paycheck for Delores.

One of her latest checks for two weeks of work after deductions was $292.52. She gets housing assistance from the Chicago Housing Authority and pays 30% of her monthly income toward the subsidized rent. This is her first year getting this assistance and was paying full rent in her previous one bedroom apartment where the three of them shared one bed. Delores moved to the area earlier this year and is closer to her mother who helps her out by picking up the girls after school on days she works.

Gallery: Living on minimum wage

A recent survey showed that 83 percent of restaurant patrons support raising the minimum wage and adjusting it annually for inflation. This comes after two years of union-backed protests by fast-food workers has highlighted the plight of the working poor and helped fuel a debate on the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 since 2009.

Delores Leonard shops for groceries.

By the time her daughters get home, there is time to squeeze in some homework and Delores pulls double duty by reading a book to them at the dinner table. The giggles of little girls fills the room.

Delores Leonard helps her daughter Erin with her homework.

They share a room and watch a little television before it’s lights out. It won’t be long now before they are up to start it all again.

Delores Leonard helps her daughters Erin and Emmarie get ready for bed.

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