I have taught students in St. Paul Public Schools for 14 years. Many of my students come from immigrant families, from working-class parents, parents working two or more jobs, and many are also homeless.
Students need stable living situations in order to come to school ready to learn. A student who lives with economic stress or insecure housing caused by economic insecurity will struggle to concentrate on academics because of preoccupation with the factors of urban survival. I have seen this countless times in my classroom.
Studies show that it takes a salary of $14.98 an hour for one adult to survive in the Twin Cities. Statistically in St. Paul, for a household with one adult and one child, the living wage is $24.92 per hour. Many of our students live in one-wage-earner households with more than one child in the household, with a parent who makes far less than $25 per hour. With so many working for poverty wages, it’s no wonder why, as the Metropolitan Council recently reported, 40.8 percent of St. Paul residents live in poverty.
For many St. Paul residents, the idea that hard work will deliver a better future for their children seems more myth than reality. It’s hard to believe in the American dream when you work more than 60 hours a week only to barely makes ends meet. Large corporations, on the other hand, seem to be doing quite well. The president of Ecolab, based here in St. Paul, makes $17 million per year. The president of McDonald’s makes over $7,000 per hour. Many of our students and some of our students' parents work at McDonald’s restaurants in St. Paul for poverty wages.
St. Jerome said all riches come from inequity. Market forces are not taking care of the people of St. Paul. Our elected leaders are failing us in the most basic ways. One of these basic categories is legislating a living wage of $15 per hour as the minimum in our city.
We have the opportunity to do something to help our struggling families in St. Paul. We have a responsibility to all our children. Let’s make St. Paul a great city for everyone. With a mayoral election just around the corner, we have the opportunity to elect new leadership that will move decisively toward ending poverty wages.
Minneapolis recently passed an ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $15. I see every day in my classroom that we need a living wage of $15 in St Paul. If Minneapolis can do it, then St. Paul can do it too.
Joe Hesla is a math teacher at St. Paul Central High School. He lives in South Minneapolis.