Giovanna McDavid, a former paraprofessional for the Clarke County School District, said it hurts her to have to accept a handout every now and then. But McDavid, despite going to work every day for 16 years, said she received a lower wage than custodians at her school, placing her in an uncomfortable position to provide for her and her four children.
Hosted by the Economic Justice Coalition, approximately 20 Athens-Clarke County residents, including ACC Commissioners Patrick Davenport, Melissa Link and Ovita Thornton, listened to McDavid and three other panelists as they shared their experiences as low-wage workers at the ACC Library on Sunday, March 17.
Approximately 34.4 percent of the ACC population is in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Poverty status is determined by a families income. If income is less than the families “threshold,” how much the family needs in terms of its size and composition, than those individuals are considered to be in poverty. Income calculations do not include noncash benefits like Medicaid and food stamps, according to the Bureau’s website.
Christopher Glenn, an employee at Pilgrim’s Pride, works overtime to ensure he can afford his expenses, even though he finds his job less than optimal.
Glenn, a lifelong resident of ACC, finds it hard to make ends meet, even though he’s single and has no children. Throughout his years of living in the county, he said he believes the University of Georgia deliberately suppresses residents in favor of students.
“UGA owns this city,” Glenn said. “I hate to say it — this school is evil.”
With high rise apartments appearing in downtown Athens to serve students for the past 10 years, Glenn said it pushes the property values up and makes affording rent and owning a house out of reach for non-student residents.
Joseph Carter, a UGA employee and member of the United Campus Workers of Georgia, said UGA needs to adjust its “subjective” raise system. Carter said regardless of salary, UGA employees may receive a two percent increase to their salary in 2019, which has less of an effect for custodial and food service staff as it does for higher income employees.
Carter said the raise system does not take into account the individual salary of each worker, as someone with a $100,000-per-year salary will get a substantially larger raise than someone with a $27,000-per-year salary. He is part of a campaign organized by UCWGA to advocate for an across-the-board $1,200 raise to all employees who make less than $100,000 per year.
“The purpose of this is to start to bring up the bottom without the top going up as well,” Carter said about the campaign.
Kirrena Gallagher, who previously worked at a daycare only making $5.15 per hour, said she’s had to learn how to navigate the government benefits available to her through the Division of Family and Children Services and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
As someone who always asks stores about a low-income discount, Gallagher shared a story about how an employee judged her appearance and said she didn’t look like she needed help.
McDavid said employers do not look at the entire picture. She said she’s been refused help because of where she worked, as an expectation has been set for her to make a higher salary since she’s employed by a school district.
All four panelists agreed experience should matter more than education when it comes to job searching, and someone with a doctorate shouldn’t necessarily make a higher salary than someone without one.
The panelists said friends and family act as their support systems, but the long hours and meager paychecks take a toll on their well-being.
“Every time I walk through that corridor, I say, ‘Man, I wish it’d burn down, but I need the money,’” Glenn said about his workplace.