NEW ORLEANS — Auranyd Alvarado is not the type to shy away from hard work.
“I’m from Puerto Rico. I moved here in 2014,” said Alvarado.
But she did not expect, as a single mom with a master’s degree in business, she’d end up working three jobs and barely sleeping to pay the bills.
“I did Uber, I did Lyft, and I sold coffee on the West Bank,” she said. She found her third job, at Tulane University, through a temp agency.
Less than a year later, Tulane took her on full time. It’s mostly kept her on her feet.
“It’s difficult to be by yourself and try to accomplish everything,” she said. “Like right now, I live paycheck to paycheck.”
She’s certainly not alone in her struggle. Nineteen percent of Louisianans live below the poverty line. Across the country, prices and paychecks have seemed increasingly out of sync.
There were 25 states that raised their minimum wage in 2021. Louisiana wasn’t one of them, but there’s talk of more than doubling the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
So what does that mean for workers in Louisiana who make just slightly more and are struggling to pay the bills?
“The prices of everything else has keep increasing, increasing. So at the end of the day, the people are getting less and less and less money to what they need to do,” said Alvarado.
Amid a staffing crisis, big companies like Starbucks, Amazon, and Target have implemented $15 minimum wage.
Costco and Ben and Jerry’s are even higher, starting their employees at $17 and $18, respectively. Those wages bring their pay close to or above some workers with very big jobs.
For example, according to the Plaquemines Parish pay plan booklet, EMTs start at just $16 per hour.
The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office website boasts that it has one of the highest-paying starting rates for deputies in the state. The office confirms that new deputies who finish training start at just $17.88 an hour, or $37,200 per year, including the state’s supplemental pay.
In Jefferson Parish, the pay plan lists drainage pump operators as starting at $15.19 per hour, or $31,586 per year. Teachers in the Head Start Program for preschoolers begin at $12.49, and even juvenile probation officers start at just $15.86 per hour.
Congressman Troy Carter, from New Orleans, believes it’s time for a raise.
“We need to have a redo, if you will. To recognize that teachers are grossly underpaid. police, fire, and first responders are grossly underpaid,” Rep. Carter told Eyewitness News in an interview over Zoom.
Carter is cosponsor of a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. The Raise the Wage Act would gradually raise the pay of 17 million workers nationwide, according to a Congressional Budget Analysis.
That same analysis, and Carter, forecast it would also give a boost to the wages of 10 million more people making just above the new minimum wage.
In total, that makes up about thirty percent of Louisiana’s workforce.
“It can’t be sufficient when you look at all the other necessities of life. Not even luxuries, just necessities. Child care is through the roof. Transportation is through the roof. Gas prices, through the roof. The price of eggs and milk and bread, through the roof,” said Carter.
“When you pay a higher wage, people earn more money, they spend more money. So kind of economics 101.”
Not all economists agree, though. The congressional analysis reports the Raise the Wage bill could reduce hiring by about one percent, or 1.4 million jobs.
Tulane University, Alvarado’s employer, raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour in October. While it didn’t bump her pay, because she makes just above that wage, she’s more motivated than ever to give her 11-year-old son a better life.
“We have to keep going. We have to keep working. Because if we stand still, we won’t make it,” she said.
The Raise the Wage Act is currently being debated in committee. All of the 201 sponsors of the bill are Democrats.