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Barely making it: Manteca’s working poor

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POSTED March 14, 2014 11:24 p.m.

“Tony” — not his real name — likes his bosses and his jobs. He doesn’t want his name used because he doesn’t want to sound like he’s complaining. He says he knows he has it better than a lot of people but still he’s frustrated. Plus he’s also not too sure if it is a good thing that employers know that he’s actively looking for another job.

Tony graduated from East Union High in 2008. He’s been taking classes off and on at Delta College.

He makes $10 an hour at one job. When he was hired, he was told not to expect to work more than 29 hours a week. His boss said the company was concerned about the cost of full-time employees. After payroll deductions, he nets $204 a week based on a typical schedule of 24 hours.

His second job pays $1 less per hour. He works two days a week at $9 an hour. He averages $101.50 a week. He considers himself lucky to have the second job as the hours and days don’t conflict with his other employment even though he doesn’t work the same exact days every week.

Tony has been on his own for the past two years. He says he no longer has any relatives in the area. That makes his situation slightly different than many of his friends who still live at home even though most are either his age — 24 — or older.

Tony has $1,220 a month to live on. His one bedroom apartment at $625 a month takes just over half of that. He’s got a smartphone and Internet bill that costs $90 a month. Try to tell him he can live without either one. He can’t.  He has no land line. And although he uses his Internet connection for gaming, it also hooks his secondhand computer up to search for jobs on the Internet where more and more jobs are being posted and to submit employment applications. He also uses it when he is able to take classes at Delta that fit into his work schedule. When he does go to Delta he tries to share rides and once in awhile he’ll take the bus when a class isn’t on a workday. He has a 1995 Chevy Cavalier that an aunt sold him a few years back for $500. The odometer is on 67,000 miles but it has also turned over twice. Between gasoline and his insurance he can easily spend another $200 a month. After PG&E is taken into account (his water and garbage is paid by the landlord), Tony has about $170 a month to spend on food and other stuff.

This started out as a column to see how many of those under 30 without healthcare insurance were aware of the March 31 deadline to either secure coverage or face a penalty from the IRS, It is doubtful that Tony makes enough that he has to worry about that. In fact, when I first asked him about healthcare coverage he said that was the least of his problems. He had to worry first about making sure he paid the rent and had food to eat. His IRS refund of about $800 is going to be spent on some “new” clothes at the Goodwill Store and a set of tires. He said he may “blow” $20 and go to the movies with a friend. The rest is going to be stashed at home. He doesn’t use a bank because he figured he couldn’t afford the monthly fees.

In short, Tony is one of Manteca’s working poor.

While the recession didn’t help it is clear that not everyone can write code or even get into the military anymore regardless of their drive and grades. Tony has found getting an education — he’s still 20 units away from an Associate of Arts degree — is an expensive proposition and difficult if you try to squeeze it in between what jobs are available that you need to support yourself.

Tony will not be getting a pay raise July 1 when the minimum wage in California goes from $8 to $9 an hour.

There are countless other Tonys out there that can tell you it isn’t easy finding a job. Tony  said that he knows of about 20 people — including himself —  who applied at Amazon in Tracy and none of them got hired.

And for the record, Tony is proud that he’s never accepted government assistance such as food stamps although he says a lot of people give him food.

He makes extra money from time-to-time under the table. A long-term roommate is out of the question as it is grounds for him to lose his apartment. He simply can’t risk that as he doubts he would have enough for a security deposit elsewhere since rents are going up.

Tony wonders whether he’ll ever find a full-time job or if getting a two-year degree will help him at all in his hunt to find one.

How do we change the lot of the Tonys of this world?

Increasing the minimum wage is one way. Making the earned income credit more generous is another.

The easiest would be to not collect any federal or state income taxes on the first $7.25 an hour a person makes — the federal minimum wage. That translates into $1,808 less in taxes or — minus Tony’s tax refund — $85 more in his pocket each month.

That doesn’t sound like much but if you’re among the working poor it’s like winning the lottery.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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