When Carolle Doreleans, 62, runs out of food, she relies on places that provide assistance. However, she said you have to know the exact time and day a truck comes with fruits and vegetables, because that’s what everyone wants.
Doreleans typically goes to St. Vincent de Paul in Punta Gorda once a month. She doesn’t eat meat, or canned food, so she waits for the fruits and vegetables. She gets them when Cheney Brothers, in Punta Gorda, donates their surplus to St. Vincent and other organizations around Charlotte County, she said.
“You don’t know when the truck is coming, you go there and hope that you find vegetables,” she said. However, once a month in the Sacred Heart parking lot, you can be sure to find vegetables. It’s orderly, too, with everyone who is waiting receiving a number, and how much they get is determined by how many people they’re providing for.”
Doreleans works part-time — about 18 hours a week — as a receptionist at CareerSource of Southwest Florida’s Port Charlotte office.
In an average month, she would earn $594, before taxes, not including the money she receives as Supplemental Security Income.
Beginning the first of the year, Florida’s minimum wage increased 21 cents per hour, bringing Doreleans’ wage, and all minimum wage workers in the state, from $8.25 per hour to $8.46. The new wage would bring Doreleans an extra $15 per month, before taxes.
Though many will say it’s a step in the right direction, minimum-wage workers like Doreleans will likely continue to struggle to cover their bills for basic necessities, like rent, utilities, and food for themselves and their family.
“Unfortunately, it is still not enough as a sustainable wage,” said Hans Dettling of CareerSource of Southwest Florida, citing the average housing costs in the area.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, households with one person earning below $12,250 or below $16,460 for two people are considered extremely low income. Households with one person earning below $20,450, and below $23,350 for two people are considered very low income.
A minimum wage worker who works 40 hours per week can expect to earn an estimated $17,596.80 annually before taxes.
According to the Living Wage calculation for Charlotte County in 2017 from livingwage.mit.edu, the living wage for one adult is $10.97 per hour. For one adult with one child, that wage jumps to $23.61. The study calculated the average living costs for a year for one adult to be $20,021 after taxes. For one adult with one child, this number is $43,088. The estimate takes into consideration the basics, which includes housing, food, medical, transportation, medical, and child care, leaving a portion for “other.”
Dettling said CareerSource currently has 17 jobs listed at under $10 an hour, covering a range of retail, hospitality, and medical services/assisted living positions.
“The water bill is killing me right now,” Doreleans said. “It’s like $80/month, and there’s a charge whether you use it or not.”
She added that she sometimes has to be late for one bill or another, and will often rotate which one she pays late.
“You have to keep up with your light bills, and the air conditioner, I find that to be an issue. You have to have cable and insurance. By the time you finish paying the bills, you have nothing left,” Doreleans said.
Lawmakers in some states have pushed for increasing the minimum wage to as high as $15, but Christopher Westley, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University, said this could backfire and hurt the very people advocates were trying to help.
Westley said, given the current wage increase is small, he does not believe it will adversely affect workers.
The intention of the increase, Westley said, is to maintain purchasing power, which is the value of money, based on the amount of goods and services that money can buy.
“When prices go up with inflation, if wages don’t keep up, purchasing power will decline,” he said.
If the prices of a product go up to cover the wage of the worker, the worker’s wage becomes less substantial
At $15 an hour, Westley said, unskilled workers tend to become less employable, as it increases the incentive for employers to favor capital over labor.
“For unskilled workers, having jobs like that is extremely important,” he said, “It’s how they get their entrance into the job force, how they get their skills.”.
Housing is the biggest concern
Angie Matthiessen, executive director of United Way of Charlotte County, said the majority of calls they get are from people needing help covering rent and utilities.
She said they know people are working two to three jobs who are struggling to make ends meet, with the bulk of their income going to housing.
Charlotte County has 22 apartment complexes considered affordable housing, with options for disabled persons and seniors. The wait list for these properties can be up to two years.
Seven Palms is an affordable housing apartment complex in Punta Gorda. To be eligible, the household gross income for one person has to be under $24,540. For two occupants, gross income must be below $28,020. A two-bedroom apartment ranges from $347 to $736.
“Seven Palms calculates rent in accordance with regulations from the department of housing and urban development based on area median income (AMI),” said spokesperson Maddie Renneke. “Although every unit at Seven Palms is affordable, some apartment homes are reserved for residents earning under 33 percent of the AMI, and rents are lowered accordingly.”
Renneke said the AMIs are calculated annually in April, so the minimum wage adjustment has no immediate impact on rents. Since the increase is minimal, she said it is unlikely it will affect rent much at all.
“Where do they get the money to buy food if the bulk of their money is going to housing?” Matthiessen asked. “Every little bit counts to help the folks in Charlotte County that are working harder and harder to get the same return, to pay the bills, to buy the food for their children and their family.”