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I work for the city of Buffalo as a seasonal sanitation worker. Despite my title, I work full-time year-round picking up garbage on Buffalo’s streets. Until 2008 I earned only $8.15 an hour.
This wage was not sufficient for me to live on. I was living week to week, paycheck to paycheck. When home heating prices went up in the winter, I couldn’t afford to stay in my apartment because the landlord raised the rent. I fell behind in rent, struggled to put food on the table, and had to leave my apartment and move back home with family.
After working as a seasonal sanitation worker with the city for six years, I finally got a raise in 2008 because the city of Buffalo started complying with their living wage law. Under this law, anyone that works for the city or for a private company that has a contract with the city, must get paid a living wage – which is just over $11.00 an hour. This raise has helped me pay my bills, but I am definitely not getting rich.
Once I received a living wage, I was able to afford an apartment, my own transportation, and have a little money to put aside for an emergency. When I was only making $8.15 an hour, I couldn’t afford any of these things or to eat regular meals, go out to eat for dinner on special occasions, or own a phone.
No job should pay less than a living wage, but unfortunately, a lot of jobs do, which is why we have got a 30% poverty rate in Buffalo. A lot of people I know struggle to get by without a living wage and some are unable to regularly feed their kids. Many of them work two jobs. Thousands of workers in Buffalo and Western New York work hard every day like me but are paid too little money to get by.