Making ends meet on minimum wage

When asked what her ideal job would be, Littleton native Maureen Parlon paused.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I guess I’ve always wanted to be a nurse’s aide. If I could find a job in a nursing home, I’d love that.”

Thinking about a dream job is “on a different spectrum,” explained Parlon. Right now, she has other things to worry about: money, a daughter, home, gas, and food bills.

Parlon can’t experience the luxury of new shoes. Can’t afford her rent every month. Couldn’t give her 21-year-old daughter, Rebecca, a small Christmas gift this year.

“We go without a lot,” said Parlon, who now lives in Townsend. “It’s really, really hard. Some days I just don’t know how I make it work.”

Parlon works part time for Market Basket in Westford and makes $9.50 an hour, close to the minimum wage level of $8 an hour in Massachusetts.

When she heard about the bill pending in the state Legislature to raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour in 2016, Parlon saw a glimmer of hope for her living conditions.

“It would help me pay the bills on time,” Parlon said. “Even $50 would make a difference for [me and Rebecca].”

The single mother lived in Littleton for 29 years before moving to Ayer five years ago, working at a variety of chains such as Roches Bros., Subway, and Donelan’s.

Although she had success finding work, Parlon said her work didn’t provide a stable financial environment. The biggest difficulty, Parlon said, is that she cannot find full-time work, which means she doesn’t get benefits, vacation days, or sick days.

In 2011, Parlon incurred an infection and had to go to the hospital seven times. The loss of valuable paid workdays, along with medical bills, caused her to fall behind on rent and eventually she was evicted for falling too far behind on her apartment bills.

“We were homeless for five weeks. Luckily we had family to offer support and stay with,” said Parlon.

According to state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, Parlon’s situation is extremely common for workers of companies such as Market Basket and Roche Bros.

“These companies will hire all their workers part time, avoiding benefits. These companies do quite well…two people working 30 hours each is the equivalent to one full time employee with benefits,” said Eldridge.

Eldridge strongly supports the minimum wage increase bill, which the Senate approved 32-7 in December. The bill would raise the minimum wage over the next three years and would take effect in July if passed, said Eldridge. It now awaits House action.

According to Eldridge, as more people apply for state benefits, the state in turn makes cuts in programs to stretch the available resources, including food stamps, fuel assistance and housing vouchers.

An overarching decrease in available food stamps occurred after a recent federal funding cut in November, said Eldridge.

Because of these cuts, in a home of two members, Parlon and Rebecca get $15 per month in food stamps, $20 less than they were receiving previously.

Both Parlon and Eldridge described the process as a “vicious cycle.”

David McLean, operations manager for Demoulas Super Markets, the owner of the regional chain Market Basket grocery stores, did not return phone calls seeking comment on the bill. The Small Business Administration has declined to comment until the bill was actually passed.

“I understand that business owners have a company to maintain, I really do,” said Parlon. “I’d just like to go up to an owner, hand them $200, and tell them to live on that for one week for food, rent, and gas.”

Follow Lindsey O’Donnell on Twitter@lhodonnellWL

 

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