How Much Can $1.25 Save Someone’s Life?

How Much Can $1.25 Save Someone’s Life?

June 04, 2012 at 10:19 am

Five days a week Michelle Dawkins wakes up at 2:30 a.m. and drives from her Bronx apartment to begin her shift at JFK Airport, ferrying wheelchair-bound passengers among the airport’s eight terminals. From 4:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Dawkins—whom her co-workers affectionately call “Mother Love”—will make $7.25 an hour, or $58 for the day. If Dawkins, 42, doesn’t require an unpaid sick day, and if the airport needs her for 40 hours each week—which is not always a certainty during the lean fall and winter travel season—she will make $15,080 over the course of a year.

Under a new proposal currently being debated in Albany, Dawkins and the 91,000 other New Yorkers who make the federal minimum wage will see that hourly wage increase by $1.25.

Five more quarters an hour will not be enough to lift Michelle Dawkins out of poverty, take her off food stamps or get her away from Medicaid, but she said it would make a difference. In 2002 she made $13 an hour as a security screener, but she left the job to take care of her mother, who died of breast cancer two years later. In 2005 she made $11 an hour doing the same job she has now, but for a different company.

Michelle Dawkins makes minimum wage as an employee at JFK. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

“I say any bit, even if it’s a quarter more, you’re gonna turn around and see a difference,” she said. “If it went to 10, it would make a world of difference.”


“We could go to restaurants, we could go to movies, we could get an accountant,” she joked.

Minimum-wage jobs are the fastest-growing sector of the state’s economy, and the number of workers making $7.25 an hour jumped dramatically from 6,000 in 2008 to 91,000 by 2011.

But whether Dawkins receives the extra $1.25 per hour, which will cost her employer an additional $2,900 a year, will have very little to do with how badly she wants or needs it—or even with what economists, business owners and voters say they want—and everything to do with politics in Albany.

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