El Dorado wages not enough – study finds county lags in salaries
In her best broken English and with modest demeanor, Bedalia Suarez, 31, admitted it’s difficult to raise three children on her own.
The South Lake Tahoe woman, who moved here from Mexico ten years ago, barely gets by with her prep cook job at Sizzler on $8 an hour for nine of those years. But she proudly insists on standing on her own two feet.
“Yes, it’s hard at times. But I’d rather be like like this, because I have my liberty. I can grab my kids and live without having to answer to anyone,” she said through a translator, Family Resource Center Director Delicia Spees.
Spees continued to coax Suarez to receive assistance from her non-profit advocacy group, but it took much work to persuade the single mom to do so, when her husband left her about a year ago.
“She’d say, ‘I don’t like to take handouts and ask people for help,'” Spees explained. “What I need is moral support.”
Suarez exemplifies a typical subject who falls short of making a living in California’s 58 counties, according to the Californians for Family Economic Self-Sufficiency. The family advocacy group released a study last week that states a single-parent family must earn $15.69 a hour in El Dorado County to make its self-sufficiency standard, given the cost of living.
The report looked at the costs, county by county, most families have to bear – health care, housing, transportation and child care.
Part of the problem is that lawmakers use the federal poverty guidelines when setting policy – a guide that was established in the 1960s and isn’t based on modern costs or situations, such as the increase in essentials to support a family, researchers say.
Since her husband left with the money to rent a home they were moving into, it’s been especially tough to get by.
“I just rose to the occasion when he left,” she told Spees.
She pays the rent first, then ensures food gets on the table for her children, ages 7, 10 and 11.
They see images on television of things they want, but shy away from asking their mother for more than they need, Suarez explained. There are exceptions however. She saved for three months to buy a videocassette recorder for $79.
“I don’t know if I’d be able to do it,” Spees said, inspired by Suarez’ story.
In case there’s an emergency, Suarez learned to drive the old car that barely runs, when she discovered she was solely responsible for the family.
She walks to work from her home on Pioneer Trail in the mornings. When she gets off work, the family of four returns home on foot. The market is also within walking distance.
Suarez once paid the neighbors for child care. But this became a drain on the budget, which is reserved for necessities. Before Suarez learned to drive, she paid the $6.25 a day to send her oldest boy to school. She said she values her children’s receiving an education here.
Suarez represents an exception to the rule when it comes to modesty and gratitude, Spees said, who offered the single mom a turkey for Thanksgiving. Suarez turned her down and suggested a needy family get hers.
However, Suarez also represents the norm in terms of single-parent wage earners in Lake Tahoe.
Spees said the Family Resource Center juggles about 30 clients a day and many make minimum wage at $5.75 an hour. It’s due to go up $1 in January. Suarez’ wage falls in the better half of incomes.
“A typical wage, I would say in Tahoe, without an education would be $8 or $9 an hour. It’s hard to find a job that makes that much, even with an education. If you find a job for $9 an hour, you’re doing very good,” said Leanne Wagoner, South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center operations manager.
Even with the lowest unemployment figures in years in California, life can present a challenge, Job One Employment Resource Center President Deborah Bates pointed out.
“We’re seeing unemployment dropping, but we also see people on all these aid programs,” Bates said, indicating this as an example of those who slip through the cracks even in a robust economy.
And with unemployment remaining at a sub 4 percent level in El Dorado County, low wages haven’t risen to the occasion.
“You’d think employers would drive up the wages, but no,” said Mary Mahoney, a labor market consultant with the state Employment Development Department, blowing the law of supply and demand theory.
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