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Tales of survival on $7.25 an hour

Fidel Ybarra, 50, doesn’t blame the politicians for not knowing about guys like him who just scrape by. “I work many years. I should be sitting down in peace.” Jesus Rodriguez, 68, who sweeps floors for $7.25 an hour.

SCOTT MCINTYRE | Times

Fidel Ybarra, 50, doesn’t blame the politicians for not knowing about guys like him who just scrape by. “I work many years. I should be sitting down in peace.” Jesus Rodriguez, 68, who sweeps floors for $7.25 an hour.

What is the minimum wage in Florida? • That question was put to the two millionaires running for governor on Monday night. • Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink both guessed $7.55. • It's 30 cents less. • Surprised? • The thing is, you can't see minimum wage from a back seat on the interstate. • Minimum wage is drive-throughs, rooftops, off ramps, shadows. It is sweat and Lysol. It looks like weed-eaters and fry cooks. Like the slow dirge when the work vans have come and gone from the day-labor shops from Pinellas Point to Pasco, from Brandon to Brooksville. The lucky disappear, and the rest wait around parking lots until 8 or 9 or 10 sometimes, hoping in work boots, and then they head home. • To wives, children. To bills and needs. • They know what minimum wage is, to the penny.

He'll do anything, often gets nothing

Fidel Ybarra rises at 3. Shower, shave, eggs. This part of the morning is good. He is 50 and ready to work. He will sweep your floors, clean your bathrooms. He used to lay tile and hang drywall. He had a house. Savings lasted a year. He can't afford to drive his Toyota pickup, so he walks predawn to AWL on Channelside Drive or Ready Labor off Columbus in Tampa. But there are often too many men, and the vans come and go and the morning sours. He doesn't blame the politicians for not knowing about guys like him. "Because they don't work. Not like this," he says. "How would they know?"

A lifetime spent making the least

His first job was at Nathan's Famous on Coney Island, N.Y., around 1960. He was 17, fresh from Puerto Rico. He remembers he made the minimum. Fifty years later, Jesus Rodriguez is 68, and he sweeps floors and cleans stalls at Gaspar's Grotto in Tampa for $7.25 an hour. Fifty years, and still at the minimum. He sleeps in the Sunshine Hotel for $80 a week. He spends what's left on rice, beans and potatoes.

By the numbers

980,000: Number of Americans earning minimum wage

48,000: Number of Floridians

20: Percentage of Americans under 25 who are paid an hourly wage

50: Percentage of that group who earn the minimum wage or less (they may receive tips or commissions)

$15,080: Gross annual income of a person earning $7.25 an hour

$21,954: Federal poverty level for a family of four

$13,991: Federal poverty level for a couple

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: 4.9 percent of Americans who earn the minimum wage are in Florida. A story Wednesday was wrong on this point.

Tales of survival on $7.25 an hour 10/26/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 1:27pm]
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