By Tal Mintz

Burnt hands carrying calloused fingers
I take pride in my work.
Smells of meat and sweat stain my clothes
I deserve every cent of that paycheck.

My co-workers threaten to strike for living wage, I cannot afford too.
In a sea of high school students, I am trying to pay my rent.
In a sea of debt, bills, and taxes, I am trying to stay afloat.

You see my dad was poor and his dad was poor
And I’m poor but have a degree, but my child will likely be poor like me.
The American Dream of socioeconomic mobility
Is now a modern day caste system where we celebrate the few who achieve.

But I’m lucky; please remember I am lucky.
I make nine an hour when some make seven twenty five.
I know there is a tremendous privilege in having loose change.

I’m not asking for handouts.
The brand on my shirt is worth 62 billions dollars.
I am worth the hours I work.

I live check to check to check; I want to afford to save.
My car breaking down or any unexpected accident,
Shouldn’t be a death sentence disguised as eviction papers.

500 extra pennies an hour, 800 extra nickels a day, is the difference between buying garbage tags at Wegmans or living another week in waste.

You ask how my life would be different?
How could it possibly be the same?

Working till 2 in the morn, flipping burgers, making fries, creating art for you to devour
I take pride in my work.
But it’d be nice to call in sick and still be able to purchase milk.
It’d be nice to have breathing room in this constant state of suffocating.

There is no place in this country where $7.25 puts a roof on your head.
$14.34 doesn’t solve every injustice, but it will change my life.

Reprinted with permission from the Tompkins County Workers’ Center.

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center is a non-profit labor rights organization in Tompkins County, New York. Following its mission “to stand up with all people treated unfairly at work,” its efforts are dedicated to movement-building among and empowerment of workers through direct action, organizing, workers’ rights and safety education, facilitating enforcement of labor protections, and Living Wage advocacy. This piece was part of the Workers’ Center’s 2016 Living Wage Visioning Contest, which invited people to share original creative works about how their lives or the lives of their families would change if they made a Living Wage.

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