Sep 17 5:00 PM

What's it really like to work for the minimum wage

Meet 23-year-old Rondell Johnson, a baggage handler for the Philadelphia International Airport. He works for the airport subcontractor PrimeFlight and gets paid the federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour. (A spokesman for PrimeFlight declined to comment on this story.) Johnson says each month he pulls in just over $850 a month after taxes. 

Even though Johnson takes on extra gigs -- or "side hustles" as he calls them -- as a freelance security guard, he still finds himself juggling which bills he's going to pay each month.


Census Bureau report released Tuesday showing the increasing number of people in poverty and the overall poverty rate:

“If you're on time every day and you get your full check, $64 of it goes to your cell phone. And if you get a monthly TransPass, that's another $64. So you buy a pair of sneakers, the average pair of sneakers is like $60. That's just three things right there,” he said. “You just keep going and going and by the time you get to your spending money, that's gone.”

When we met him earlier this month, he let his cell phone service lapse and communicated solely with the month of free texts offered by his service provider. He was sharing a place with his cousin for $650 a month but recently moved back in with his mom to recoup.

Johnson makes more money as a security guard but that job doesn’t give him the full-time work he needs. "Getting a job is easy. It's the consistency of the job," he said, questioning, "Is the paycheck going to stay consistent. Are you going to have consistent hours enough to support yourself?"

The annual salary for someone working full-time at the national minimum wage is just over $15,000 a year before taxes. The poverty line for one person living alone is $11,490. 

For Johnson, this job is a stepping stone. “You don't wake up and have everything you want overnight. It's a learning process," he said. "I don't want to retire where I started. I started broke. I started in poverty. I'm going to retire in poverty, too? Then what has my life been about at that point."

A high-school graduate, he wants to eventually go to school for business and build a career as a real estate entrepreneur. He’s hopeful. "Eventually I'll get it. Work in progress."

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