“People don’t understand how hard it is to get by on low wages. You have to always think about what’s coming, always make sure to stay on top of everything. ”
I am 30 years old and moved to Maine a year-and-a-half ago from Burundi, in Southeast Africa. I was fleeing political persecution and was eager to start a new life and to help support my family back home. Unfortunately, so far it has not been easy.
I had worked for years in the hospitality industry in Nairobi (Kenya), but that experience didn’t help me find high-paying employment here in Maine. For the past four months, I worked as the housekeeping supervisor at a hotel here in Portland. While it was supposed to be a full-time job, I was paid hourly and almost never worked 40 hours a week — it was always around 30 hours or less per week, at only $8 per hour.
After paying for housing, I had less than $100 to live on per month, which just wasn’t enough. I had no health care, and hardly enough money for anything else, let alone enough to save for emergencies. I was so thankful that there were some community members to help make up the difference. Instead of planning for the future, I had to constantly just think about getting through each day. It just wasn’t the better life that I had dreamed of, and it didn’t leave enough for me to help my family back home.
I am happy to say that I am no longer working for the hotel, and I am finally earning wages that are a bit higher, though they still are not really enough to send much money to my family. I still have to work two jobs. I work full-time at Granite Bay Care for $10 per hour, and I work a few hours for the Portland Teen Shelter, where I earn $11 per hour.
However, my rent has gone up, so even these higher wages don’t leave me a lot left over at the end of the month. With rent, expenses for transportation, food, and trying to take some courses to better myself, there’s not a lot left over. I still don’t have money for new clothes. My family back home still wonders why I can’t send them money.
People don’t understand how hard it is to get by on low wages. You have to always think about what’s coming, always make sure to stay on top of everything. You can’t afford to make a late payment and have extra charges, and you can’t do the social things that you might want to. It’s not even a month-to-month struggle when you’re not making a living wage — it’s really a day-to-day struggle.