Politics

Minimum wage: For this working mom, it means constantly telling the kids 'No'

Claudia Chi Ku helps her son, Johnny Ramirez, 7, tie his shoes before leaving their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku has lived in the apartment with her four children for three years. She works are a cashier at a restaurant nearby.
Claudia Chi Ku helps her son, Johnny Ramirez, 7, tie his shoes before leaving their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku has lived in the apartment with her four children for three years. She works are a cashier at a restaurant nearby.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Claudia Chi Ku helps her son, Johnny Ramirez, 7, tie his shoes before leaving their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku has lived in the apartment with her four children for three years. She works are a cashier at a restaurant nearby.
Claudia Chi Ku holds her yorkie, Lucky, while her children play outside of their apartment.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Claudia Chi Ku helps her son, Johnny Ramirez, 7, tie his shoes before leaving their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku has lived in the apartment with her four children for three years. She works are a cashier at a restaurant nearby.
Claudia Chi Ku walks with her children through their neighborhood in Pico Union. Graffiti is a reminder of the gangsters that used to hang outside and in a local park but still live in the area, Chi Ku said.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Claudia Chi Ku helps her son, Johnny Ramirez, 7, tie his shoes before leaving their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku has lived in the apartment with her four children for three years. She works are a cashier at a restaurant nearby.
Claudia Chi Ku braids the hair of her daughter, Leslie Soriano, 11, as her other children play outside of their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku supports her family while working as a cashier at a restaurant in the neighborhood.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Claudia Chi Ku helps her son, Johnny Ramirez, 7, tie his shoes before leaving their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku has lived in the apartment with her four children for three years. She works are a cashier at a restaurant nearby.
Johnny and Julianna Ramirez play with their neighbor's pumpkin while Claudia Chi Ku takes her family out to walk their dog. The family had to make a decision between going to see a movie or buying Halloween costumes this year. The children choose to see a movie.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Claudia Chi Ku helps her son, Johnny Ramirez, 7, tie his shoes before leaving their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku has lived in the apartment with her four children for three years. She works are a cashier at a restaurant nearby.
Johnny and Julianna Ramirez play a game with their sister, Leslie Soriano, 11, right, as their mother, Claudia Chi Ku, watches during a walk to a local park in there Pico Union neighborhood.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Claudia Chi Ku helps her son, Johnny Ramirez, 7, tie his shoes before leaving their apartment in Pico Union. Chi Ku has lived in the apartment with her four children for three years. She works are a cashier at a restaurant nearby.
Julianna Ramirez, 8, hugs her mother, Claudia Chi Ku, as they walk home with her brother, Johnny, after playing in a local park.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC


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This is one of two personal stories on the potential effects of increasing the minimum wage. For a business owner's point of view, click here.

Claudia Chi Ku works a minimum wage job as a cashier at a Mexican restaurant in Pico Union. Her income is so low, she qualifies for food stamps and other public assistance. 

She and her four children are crowded into a one-bedroom apartment and, even then, the $980 monthly rent eats up much of her take home pay. She said she has $350 left for all her other expenses, including food and clothing.

"I wish everyone could have their own room, but unfortunately making the minimum wage, it's very tough," said Chi Ku, who sleeps in a bed in the living room. Working full time, she makes $18,720 a year.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to increase the minimum wage for all workers in Los Angeles from the current $9 an hour set by California law to $13.25 an hour by 2017.

But the wage proposal is controversial. Business interests have called it a job killer and on Tuesday, the city council's Economic Development Committee voted to put the measure on hold until an economist can study its potential effect on the regional economy and hundreds of thousands of workers. The study is due back in February.

A study by the UC Berkeley Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics commissioned by Garcetti estimated 567,000 workers would be affected. That's the number of people in the city who currently earn less than $13.25 an hour.

Four members of the Los Angeles City Council want to see the hourly wage increase even more, to $15.25 by 2019.  That proposal is on hold, too.

Chi Ku said it's tough to make it on less. She's constantly having to tell her kids no.

Monday night, she was organizing school binders while chicken baked in the oven and three of her kids did their homework at the kitchen table. She found a flyer for a book fair at the elementary school.

Eight-year-old Julianna pointed to the books she wanted but, new books aren't always in the budget. Shoes and clothes also have to wait for the next paycheck, or the one after.

"At first, my kids used to complain about it," she said. "But you know, in a way they kind of got used to it."

"I do pray for my situation to change," she said. For more money, or a better job.

Earning $13.25 an hour instead of $9 would mean more than $700 in extra gross pay. After taxes, it would still be hundreds of dollars more each month.

"It will make a big difference," Chi Ku said.  "I mean, maybe if I get paid more, we get to move into a different apartment and everyone could have their own room.

"Maybe," she adds, "I won’t have to tell my kids, wait until next paycheck to get your shoes."