Making it work: Life on minimum wage

Maria Garcia (center), 37, graduates from the University of Illinois' Labor Education Program at Arise Chicago in November. She has been attending classes every other Saturday for two months to learn leadership skills. Garcia works at least 40 hours a week at a Mexican eatery on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where she makes $9 an hour.

Photo by Michelle Kanaar

Maria Garcia (center), 37, graduates from the University of Illinois' Labor Education Program at Arise Chicago in November. She has been attending classes every other Saturday for two months to learn leadership skills. Garcia works at least 40 hours a week at a Mexican eatery on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where she makes $9 an hour.

Maria Garcia, 37, came to the United States from Mexico when she was 16. She came, as she says, to work. Six years ago she left her husband and started supporting her six children on her own while earning a little more than minimum wage. Garcia’s story illustrates what it looks like to support a family on less than $10 an hour working more than full-time.

The minimum wage in Chicago is currently $8.25 an hour, but recently, the City Council voted to increase Chicago’s minimum wage to $10 in 2015, then to $13 an hour by 2019. However, Garcia is striving for more than just a livable wage. “My dream is to study and have a career… so that my children will be proud of me and so that I can fulfill my dream of being a social justice worker.”