Most women workers in the United States are not executives at tech firms or the co-founders of boutique perfume startups, though you wouldn’t know that from the women featured in #WomenWhoWork, a campaign for the “modern working woman” started in 2013 by Ivanka Trump.
Instead, most low-wage workers in this country are women, though they are rarely included in the popular image of the struggling working class, or acknowledged by lawmakers still fixated on coal mines and the factory floor while largely ignoring the cash register and American household as scenes of actual labor.
As an antidote, Splinter is running a series of interviews with women who work in industries —healthcare, service, education—dominated by women. We borrowed from the questionnaire used by Trump’s #WomenWhoWork campaign—adding a few of our own questions about wages, hours worked, insurance, and savings—and used it to talk to women about their work and home lives.
Chantel Williams, 34, California
Life’s work: I work at a Taco Bell, and I’ve been there for a very long time—over ten years. I do the register, I do the drive through, I clean, I do the lobby, I take trash out, parking lot check, restrooms. In our job, you have to be able to do a little bit of everything in all areas.
First job? The first job I ever had was working at the Boys and Girls Club. I was an assistant helping the co-trainers there. I was basically going out on outings, helping them out with the kids, watching the kids. We’d go hiking, take them out on field trips, help them with homework. They had a lot of activities for after school—basketball, football, soccer, things like that.
How did you get your current job? I started working at Taco Bell when I was, let’s see, 16. They were taking applications, so I put an application in and waited to be called.
What are your wages like? The wages back then, when I first started, were maybe $5.50 an hour. From there, they had little—every six months or so you would get an evaluation for a promotion: 55 cents, 10 cents. Now my wage is $10.50, the state minimum right now. But we’re supposed to be getting an evaluation coming up soon, and the raises range in basically the same amount: 25 cents, 50 cents.
How many people do you support on your income? I support three other people on that income. My baby, who is two, and my oldest, who is eight years of age. I’m struggling paycheck to paycheck. It’s hard for me to do extra things for my kids, so it’s basically impossible to do activities, take them out to movie. And childcare is an additional cost.
Chantel’s partner, who is sitting nearby: I just wanted to say, it’s very impossible, basically. I don’t work right now, but I’ve been working for a long time. Where we live right now, it’s a low-income apartment building that we’ve sustained for about two years. We are just trying to survive, we’re barely making it.
What’s an average day for you? A normal day for me is dropping my older son off in the morning at school; he goes at 8:00 a.m. Then I get my little man situated and ready. My older man gets out of school at 2:00 p.m. I pick him up, then I wrap up everything here, make sure they’re straight. Then I leave for work at 3:00 p.m., and I work from 3:00 to 11:00 p.m. It’s a long day. And once I’m off to work that’s the end of it, I won’t see the kids again until the next morning.
Are you able to save money on your income? No, I’m not able to save anything.
Does it worry you? It’s a concern. I’m frustrated. Besides the rent, the bills, putting food on the table—it’s all very difficult.
Do you have health insurance? Yes, I applied for Medi-Cal [California’s Medicaid program] through the county.
What do you think it means to be a woman who works? I think they need more: a raise, more help, more programs to help us.
What does success mean to you? Success for me is, at home, to be able to spend more time with my kids. Be able to take my kids more places. And also, hopefully, a better job to come along in the future.
Want to talk about your work life for the series? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org