by Brian Washington
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When Pennsylvania school bus driver Sherry Adamson is working her morning and afternoon shifts, she’s all smiles.
“I go to work with a smile on my face because I love what I do,” said Adamson, who works for the Pennsbury School District. “I go the extra mile for my students. I am not just there to drive them. I am there for them anyway I can be.”
But unfortunately, that smile disappears when it’s time to go home, where the pressures of trying to make ends meet force her to make a quick wardrobe change and head out to one of her two part-time jobs.
I am always struggling to pay my bills, and I am always working,” said Adamson, who is going continue making school-bus runs over the summer for sporting and special events and, despite a tight schedule, is going to try to squeeze in one more part-time job, bringing her total up to three. “It’s very upsetting because I don’t get a break. I am working so hard, and I am still not making my bills.
From school bus drivers to lunch workers to classroom assistants, education support professionals (ESP), like Adamson, play a valuable role in meeting the physical and emotional needs of public school students. And yet, nationwide, many of them fall short of earning a living wage—enough to support themselves and their families without having to take on part-time employment.
The national average salary for an ESP is $28,811. In Pennsylvania, it’s about $30,000. For Adamson, that’s not much when you factor in that she is located in an area 40 minutes northeast of Philadelphia, the 5th largest city in the country where the cost of living is about 25 percent greater than the national average.
Adamson’s dream is that the job she loves, school bus driver, will one day be enough to support her and her daughter. She believes the first step may be getting lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to increase the federal minimum wage.
Earlier this year, U.S. Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Robert Scott of Virginia introduced a nationwide minimum wage bill that would increase it from $7.25 to $12 by 2020.
“My rent goes up $50 every year. The cost of utilities, the cost of gas, the cost of everything is going up,” said Adamson. “But not the minimum wage—it has not gone up. So how can you earn a living and pay bills when everything is going up, and they (politicians) are not raising the minimum wage?”
Adamson is earning minimum wage on one of her two part-time jobs and just above minimum wage on the other. As a school bus driver, she’s a salaried employee, but her hope is raising the federal minimum wage will ultimately increase her pay at school and that of other working Americans across the country. In her mind, a new, higher minimum wage could be the rising tide that lifts all boats.
“They (lawmakers) have to raise the minimum wage so that average American people are not struggling every day and our children can have a future,” said Adamson. “The bottom line is we all need to come together to make sure that workers can earn enough to support their families.”