Earning $9 An Hour, Nearing Retirement

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Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks to Helen Cheeks, who makes $9 an hour in her job assisting unaccompanied minors traveling through Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

This conversation is part of our week-long series on raising the minimum wage.

Interview Highlights: Helen Cheeks

How is it to live on $9 an hour doing that work?

“It’s not living, it’s not. It’s a paycheck, but it doesn’t cover the cost of housing. It costs me, bi-weekly to get to work, $117. I’m staying with someone that I have to pay $300 a month. Rent has gone up, the money’s still the same. The food has gone up, the money’s still the same. Utilities, clothes, transportation, all of those things has gone up, the money’s still the same. I miss a day a week because I cannot get to work five days a week on the salary I make and I don’t work 40 hours, even with 40 hours I still couldn’t do it. I’m only allowed 28 hours, but I’m getting 35 because they’re short of help. You know, I just want an affordable place. I’ve been homeless a number of times. I’ve slept in cars, I’ve been in abandoned houses, just this winter, during the snowstorm. That’s not living, and I also think that the low-wage jobs are just a way to set up people that’s already in poverty. It’s just setting them up for failure anyway.”

Would raising the minimum wage up to $15 an hour be enough for you to live?

“Raising the minimum wage up to $15 an hour would give me a better chance, but if we’re talking about the district, the only way you’d be able to live in the district is that you have affordable housing. Low income, even on $15.”

Do you have any other options in terms of jobs?

“Well, at my age, I would pretty much say no. I’ve had a good paying job and I come from armed security. I got forced out of there when the recession set in, when they downsized 350 officers in 2008. I was 51, or 52.”


  • Helen Cheeks, unaccompanied minor agent at Reagan National Airport.

This segment aired on May 5, 2016.


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