Immigrants Cope With Stress Of Long Hours, Low Pay (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Immigrants Cope With The Stress Of Long Hours, Low Pay

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:03
Juan Anderio and lots of other veterans just wanted to get back to the regular routines of life. But that's not to say the daily grind is easy. There are a lot of people in this town whose primary source of stress is just trying to get by. They cook Washington's food, they clean its offices and they build us roads. Reporter Marc Adams brings us the story of two immigrants trying to stay afloat and support their families.

MR. MARC ADAMS

00:00:28
Every weeknight, Mario vacuums the carpet, takes out the trash and mops the floors. And that's just at his office job in downtown D.C. He has another job cleaning the floors of a fast food restaurant in Chinatown. Altogether, he works more 13 hours a day, six days a week earning, at best, about $12 an hour. It doesn't leave much time to rest, but with two kids and a wife in El Salvador who depend on the money he sends home, he feels he has little choice.

MARIO

00:00:58
(Through translator) It's difficult, very difficult because I was a person who walked with his sons down the street in the shops. Though I'd like to be with them to do that again but I can't. They're very far away.

ADAMS

00:01:11
It's not hard to imagine the stress that takes root.

MARIO

00:01:16
(Through translator) I felt heartaches and pain in my chest, but they did all the medical exams and I didn't have anything, thank God. The doctor recommended I relax, get some rest and eat better.

ADAMS

00:01:26
Mario, who prefers not to disclose his real name, is one of more than 1.2 million people living in the Washington region who were born in another country. Mario is undocumented immigrant, which makes it difficult for him to earn much more than minimum wage. But it doesn't necessarily get any easier for those immigrants who have become U.S. citizens.

ADAMS

00:01:49
Meet Roberto. He serves as a building supervisor, though he does every bit as much direct cleaning as the employees he oversees.

ROBERTO

00:01:59
Much better.

ADAMS

00:01:59
While the two share El Salvador as the country of their birth, Roberto came to the U.S. with his parents as a child and has since become an American citizen. But despite having access to public education in the States, he decided to drop out of high school and work to help his parents financially. Now, years later, with no high school diploma or GED, he finds himself working overnight on two different office cleaning jobs to make ends meet and support his wife and two-year-old daughter who live with him in the D.C. area.

ROBERTO

00:02:29
At first, it was hard, but I guess things that you need accomplished makes you do what you got to do. I have a daughter, I have a family, I have all the stuff, the bills and all that stuff. I got to do it some way and I don't know how I do it, but I do it and it gets tiring at times, though.

ADAMS

00:02:49
Roberto and Mario are among the more than 100,000 D.C. residents classified as low-income. According to Jenny Reed, policy director at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, the gap between high wages and low wages in the city is the largest it's been in 30 years.

MS. JENNY REED

00:03:05
I think for immigrants that are in low wage work, they're probably facing a lot of the same financial stresses. They're probably having a hard time affording decent housing. They're probably having a hard time putting food on the table. For any low wage worker in D.C., the costs of living are just so high and those low wages just don't go very far.

ADAMS

00:03:32
Still, Mario continues on. He accepts that this was the life he chose and remains grateful for the little he has.

MARIO

00:03:40
(Through translator) A lot of people are worse off than me, without a job. The worst that can happen to someone here is to be unemployed.

ADAMS

00:03:47
Mario says he plans to return to his family in El Salvador as soon as he can but he concedes he doesn't know just how far off that day may be. For good or bad he doesn't have much time to think about it. There's too much work that still needs to be done. I'm Marc Adams.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:06
For more info about the immigrant workforce here in the nation's capital, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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