(Editor’s Note: In partnership with the immigrants’ advocacy group CASA, The Capital-Star will run a monthly column elevating Latinx voices from across the commonwealth. If you or your organization would like to be included, email us at [email protected].)
By Josefina Sanchez
Twenty years ago, my husband and I embarked on a dangerous journey with the illusion of achieving the American Dream.
For us, immigration was not optional but rather necessary; immigrating to the land of opportunities was the only way we could reach a standard of living that, unfortunately, in Mexico, we could not. However, the struggle does not end once you have reached the American border.
The uphill battle continues as you are trying to overcome the language barrier and obtain a job that can help you afford your next meal.
In 1997, we arrived in Harrisburg. Since then I have worked in hotel maintenance as a maid. My first salary was just under $10,000 a year with an hourly wage of $5. It took me 10 years to get an increase. I was elated, naively believing that my employers had finally noticed my great work ethic and professionalism and were rewarding my hard work. Little did I know that the law required them to provide me with that increase.
It saddens me to say that after 20 years of hard work and a lot of effort, my salary does not reach $10 per hour. My American Dream seems further and further away as my husband and I struggle to make ends meet while our children’s pursuit of higher education seems bleak.
In July 2007, the Pennsylvania General Assembly raised the minimum wage to $7.15 per hour or nearly 39 percent of the then-typical median wage for full-time, full-year workers in Pennsylvania, which was $18.29.
Currently, the minimum wage in the state is $7.25 per hour. Since 2009, our state’s minimum wage has not risen while the cost of living has increased by 13 percent. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage stands 72.2 percent under the minimum wage of Delaware, Ohio, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Maryland combined.
This legislative session, Gov. Tom Wolf and state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, want to push through legislation that will finally raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2024.
Six other states have already taken the initiative to adopt a $15 dollar minimum wage and have seen an increase in their state’s economy through local business spending and higher tax revenues.
Increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour will help alleviate the costs for food, rent, and private transportation in many low-wage households like mine.
It would allow my husband and I to afford a better place to live and raise our four children, while also fulfilling my children’s dreams. My older son wants to become a full-time student instead of a full-time employee. My 5-year-old daughter wants me to go to the movies when she asks me to.
On Wednesday, April 17, I will be speaking to Pennsylvania lawmakers who are still hesitant on increasing our state’s minimum wage. I will be joined by workers from all of Pennsylvania who want and need this increase to stay afloat with the cost of living in the state and whose basic needs and rights have been denied for too long.
Josefina Sanchez is an active community leader with the immigrants’ and workers’ rights organization CASA. She is also the representative of their leadership committee in Harrisburg. She is from Jalisco, Mexico and came to this country 21 years ago.