Working Fulltime for Poverty Level Wages…The Case of Janitors

Thursday, November 15, 2012
Janitors Linda Watson and Lauressie "Dee Dee" Tillman rally in Cincinnati March 2007 (photo, Tom Uhlman, AP)

Cleaning toilets 40 hours a week can mean earning a paycheck, but it can also mean wallowing in poverty.


Janitors in Cincinnati are currently negotiating a new labor contract with cleaning service companies. The annual salary for a full-time janitor is only $17,836—which is below the poverty line of $18,106 for a family of three.


The wage is also just over half the estimated annual cost of living in the city—$33,347 for a one-parent, one-child family, according to The Nation.


Because of these poverty wages, many full-time janitors are on food stamps, and receive both Medicaid and housing assistance.


Management, though, is not offering any kind of wage bump. Instead, it wants to freeze salaries for two years, and provide a 10-cent increase in 2015.


Cincinnati is a city of economic extremes. Thirteen Fortune 1000 companies have headquarters there, including Macy’s, Kroger and Fifth Third Bancorp. These 13 corporations earned a combined $17 billion in profits last year.


Meanwhile, Cincinnati has a poverty rate of 30.6%, and nearly half of all the city’s children live below the poverty line.


At least one company, Procter & Gamble, believes janitors should earn more money. It uses janitors from the cleaning contractor Compass, which offers workers a 30-cent increase in the first year, a 25-cent bump in the second year, and another 30-cent increase in the third year. Compass also guarantees full-time hours and healthcare.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

This Week in Poverty: Janitors in the Queen City (by Greg Kaufman, The Nation)

U.S. Poverty Rate Is Creeping Toward a 50-Year High (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Vicki Baker, AllGov)

UK Study: Hospital Janitors More Valuable to Society than Bankers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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