Trying to Get On My Feet in New York State Making $11.65 an Hour.

A starvation wage in one of the country’s most expensive states.

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photo via Ronile on Pixabay

When people outside of the state think of New York, their mind nearly always goes to one of three regions. The city, Long Island, or “Upstate”. Tell anyone you’re from New York, and there’s a very good chance they won’t place you anywhere north of Albany. But much to their surprise and to the surprise of my fellow New Yorkers living in the capital region or the city, there are in fact people up north. Regardless of whether you live an hour outside of Manhattan or fifteen minutes from the Canadian border like me, it goes without saying that New York is a very expensive state to live in. Consistently it is ranked one of the most expensive in the Union. Living nearly my entire life in one of New York’s poorest counties has given me firsthand experience in the effects of neoliberal policies on our nation’s poor people.

As a certified nursing assistant working for the local nursing home, I am one of those poor people.

If there is anyone in this country who is overworked and underpaid, CNA’s are most definitely among them. As a CNA who is paid by my company through a medicare grant, I started out making $11.00 an hour once I got my state certification. Well over a year later, I now make $11.65. While other employers and employees throughout the state are preparing for a new $15 dollar an hour minimum wage, this new statewide wage increase does not apply to me or my coworkers, because we are paid through a federal program (Medicare). Not only that, but Governor Cuomo has slashed my employer’s funding by 1 million dollars. While that may not seem like a large number in the grand scheme of things, for us it is devastating.

It means that as prices are increasing due to the new minimum wage, lower level employees of one of the largest employers in our county don’t know when we will see our next raise.

As CNA’s we are often depended upon to be the eyes, ears, and voices of our residents. We are responsible for making them feel welcome when they first arrive, and we are there holding their hands as they prepare to take their final breaths. Part of our job is to say goodbye to people who have become family, and we are responsible for their care while they live out their final years, months, and days.

I love my residents and I don’t want to leave them, but getting by on $11.65 an hour in New York State is nearly impossible. I may have no choice.

Even in the poorest parts of the state, a halfway decent apartment in my town doesn’t go for less than $650 a month without utilities included. And of course we cannot forget things like car insurance, health insurance, gas, and groceries. Any money you might save living a little outside of town in this rural area is quickly put in to vehicle maintenance and gas. Making $1400 a month like I do, the math just doesn’t add up.

There is nothing I want more than to be able to move out of my Dad’s house, and start a life of my own. I am trying to save as much money as I possibly can while still paying him rent and for my own expenses, but part of me is genuinely scared of attempting to get by in one of the most expensive states in the Union earning a starvation wage.

My coworkers are leaving in droves to work in Home Health Care, at the local hospital, or even gas stations where while it might not be much, at least they’re making a couple more dollars an hour. While I’m struggling enough as it is just on my own to save for an apartment and pay my own bills, I cannot imagine having children to worry about and care for as well.

More than a few of my coworkers making this starvation wage are single mothers working multiple sixteen hour shifts a week, not only because they need to put food on the table for their kids but because they know our residents deserve better than what our employer can currently give them. They want to do their part to make sure our residents are safe and taken care of. They’re sacrificing precious time with their little ones to do it, and their health as well. One of my coworkers at 28 years old works the equivalent of two full time positions to make ends meat for her family. She was recently told by her doctor that he’s worried she’s at risk of having a stroke.

With low wages having such a disastrous effect on staffing and morale, the people we are employed to care for are the ones who suffer most. They see us when we are there turning off their light, and they notice when we are there turning it back on to get them up just hours later.

While fast food and retail workers of course deserve the dignity of earning a livable wage, so do those of us entrusted with taking care of our state’s population of elderly and sick people who depend on us. I am trying to establish a life here in a state that I love, but there comes a point where the psychological and physical toll of not knowing how I will be able to afford to stay or continue in this field that I love becomes too much. New York State is heading down a path that is unsustainable, and I’m surrounded every day by people who continue to grow more anxious and frustrated. At some point something must give, but I don’t think I’ll be able to hang around until it does.

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Lauren is a writer & leftist with analysis on topics related to politics & policy. She can be reached at LaurenMartinchek@gmail.com or Twitter @xlauren_mx

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