I’m a single mother and I struggle to support my son on the $10.33 an hour I make at one of the most exclusive clubs in America – the US Senate. I’m a cashier employed by the British-owned contractor that runs the cafeterias in the Senate office buildings. But even though I serve some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world, I can’t afford to buy my son school supplies or clothes.
After paying all my bills and providing for the needs of my son, I’m $600 in the hole every month. On top of the low wages, I get a lay-off notice every time the US Senate goes on recess, which means that I don’t get a paycheck for 8-10 weeks a year.
When I realized that I couldn’t survive on what I was making at the Senate, I made a difficult decision. Faced with eviction notices and unpaid bills, I decided to dance at a strip club a few nights a week to earn extra money. It was the only job I could find that let me work a flexible schedule and earn a living wage.
I don’t want to be a stripper: it can be demeaning to dance for men who show no respect for women. I only do it out of necessity, because I have to support my son. He gets As and Bs on his report card and my shelves are full of his football trophies. My son makes me proud and I want to give him everything that my mother couldn’t give me. The wages I make at my day job just don’t leave me much choice.
During the day, I make sure that senators and their staffs get their coffee quickly and efficiently as they run from meeting to meeting or to the Senate floor to cast votes – and I’ve served the nine current and former US senators who are running to become the next president of the United States. But while my customers give speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire promising to deliver the American Dream to hard-working people, they aren’t lifting a finger to help the workers like me who serve them every day; not everyone has another job, but it’s almost impossible to support even a small family without one.
I only want what every mother wants: to provide my child with a life that’s better than my own. My childhood was emotionally, physically and sexually abusive; my mother was addicted to crack cocaine and, not only did she do drugs in front of me, she neglected to feed or bathe me for days. I soon realized she loved drugs and the fast life more than me. When I turned 12, the authorities intervened and almost sent me into the foster-care system.
Luckily, my grandparents stepped in and allowed me to live with them. But a couple of years later, they moved away and left me with my aunt. She didn’t have patience for another child under her roof, so she kicked me out. I was 14 years old and forced to survive on the streets of Washington DC.
I eventually met a man who said he loved me and would help me out. He was a pimp. He was physically and sexually abusive and forced me into prostitution. I only managed to escape from his control when I was 17. I told myself that if I ever became a mother I would do everything in my power to make sure my child would not have to suffer like I did.
The birth of my son was a turning point in my life. I found a full-time job at the US Senate, and I was so proud to be able to work in such an important place. During that time, I went back to school and I got my GED. I thought that I was doing great, but it didn’t take long for me to learn that even a job in the Senate wasn’t enough to give me and my son a shot at a better life.
As all the current and former senators running for the White House prepare to hit the campaign trail during the August recess, I hope they remember the people they are leaving behind without a paycheck. And when they sit down with the primary voters and listen to their problems, I hope they’ll be thinking about my story too – and the tough decisions the workers who serve them every day have to make for the people they love.