When John Kerry asked the audience at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) last week if anybody was making at or near minimum wage, Wendy Salguero raised her hand. A client of United Community Ministries (UCM), she said that she finds it difficult to exist on minimum wage. To make ends meet, Salguero shares housing with another tenant and takes advantage of the day care provided by UCM. She receives a child care subsidy, but can't afford to purchase health insurance.
The stop at NVCC was part of a campaign swing focused on building a stronger economy for America's families. Kerry is talking with community leaders and workers abut how to open doors and expand opportunity by increasing the minimum wage to $7 by 2007. The current minimum wage is only 33 percent of the average American wage, which is the lowest level since 1949.
Accompanying Salguero to the conference was Cheri Zeman, who was recently announced as the executive director of UCM to replace Sharon Kelso; Tracy Davis, development officer; Eileen McNally, grant writer and fundraising associate; and Elizabeth McNally, director of the BEL Center. Prior to the conference, Zeman said that they were prepared to explain to Kerry how hard a struggle it is for a person making minimum wage.
"We're here to talk about our services and how minimum wage affects our clients," Zeman said. "We're hoping to enlighten him on the difficulty of sustaining day-to-day functions on a minimum wage."
Zeman then did some quick calculating to find that a person working a 40-hour week getting minimum wage makes $10,712. Davis said that the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in this area runs $880. This totals $10,560, leaving only $152 for food, clothing, medicine and basic supplies — not nearly enough to live on. An increase to $7 would put an additional $3,848 in a worker's pocket each year, a substantial upgrade for the 15 million workers making minimum wage.
STATE DEL. Brian Moran (D-46) has been a John Kerry supporter from the beginning of the presidential campaign. He was unable to attend Kerry’s Northern Virginia Community College appearance because of a commitment in Richmond. However, Kerry ran his Virginia primary campaign out of Moran’s law offices in Alexandria.
“I remember the first meeting we held, there were only five people and I didn’t recognize any of them,” Moran said. “I was pretty worried.”
Then came Iowa. “After that, there were so many people that they hardly fit into my offices,” Moran said.
Kerry came to Northern Virginia this week to talk about the minimum wage but there is a bigger reason. “His appearance here indicates that he believes Virginia is competitive and that he is going to spend some time here,” Moran said.
That belief is further supported by an event that is being planned for Tysons Corner on July 16. The $1,000 a plate fundraiser is expected to sell out quickly. Kerry and Virginia Governor Mark Warner will appear together.