Not Getting By in a Low Wage Nation

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by Frank Hegedus – Guest column

Frank Hegedus
Frank Hegedus

Follow your passion. A college degree will help you get ahead. I hear this all the time, but neither has helped me much. Even with skills in a supposedly high-demand trade, finding work that allows me to make ends meet has been impossible.

“Low Wage Nation,” a recent report by the Alliance for a Just Society, shows that I’m not alone. With 61 percent of job openings paying less than a living wage for a single adult in Florida, there just aren’t enough good paying jobs to go around.

My passion for music started at a young age. By the age of 12, I purchased my first pair of turntables and started DJ-ing paid gigs for my friend’s birthday parties. By 16 I was working full time as the DJ for a local roller skating rink. I hoped someday I’d be able to turn that passion into a living, but I knew I might need something to fall back on, just in case.

In college I decided to follow another passion of mine and majored in political science at the University of Central Florida. Throughout college I produced music and worked on political campaigns, but neither provided the permanent and consistent income I needed to get by.

My father was an electrician and he was able to make enough to support us, so I decided to follow in his footsteps and got a job working the graveyard shift as an electrician.  Hired at an hourly rate of $9.93 an hour, I was forced to pick up every additional shift that I could get to make enough to pay the bills. After a few months of working long, overnight hours I was tired, barely paying the bills, and had concerns over workplace safety and job security. Those fears were validated when I was suddenly laid off due to a work shortage.

I explored every option possible to find a new job by creating accounts on all the major employment websites, and registering with the Employ Florida Job Marketplace.  I applied for over 10 jobs a day, mostly in low paying positions. Even with my bachelor’s degree, campaign management experience, and the necessary skills to own my own business, I was unable to find a job.

While it was incredibly frustrating, many others in Florida are having the same experience. The Alliance for a Just Society’s report shows there are nine job seekers for every job that pays a living wage – enough for a single adult to make ends meet – and there are four job seekers for any paying job opening.

Luckily, I had my business to fall back on. I started marketing myself to anyone and everyone that needed a DJ, lighting, sound, and projection mapping. I expanded my search outside of Central Florida and started taking jobs all across the state. Now, I am finally able to pick up two or three shows a week running sound and lighting for other artists at The Space, a performance venue in Orlando that allows artists to perform in exchange for donations.

Although my work with show production saved me from going broke, it wasn’t a permanent solution. After months of searching I was able to find two part time jobs in the food service industry. The pay is low, but it allows me the time I need to pursue my music business. I look forward to a day when I can make music production my only job. But for now, the financial risk it too high to rely solely on my growing business.

The combination of two low wage jobs and my production business keep me afloat, but it’s also not a long term solution. Quite frankly, it is a bit embarrassing to be a college graduate and small business owner who is working for barely over minimum wage.

It really shouldn’t be this hard to find a job that pays enough to make ends meet. Our state needs a higher minimum wage so that even food service jobs pay a living wage. We also need to invest in more good paying jobs so that there are enough living wage jobs to go around. No one should have to work two part-time jobs and own their own business just to get by.

Frank Hegedus, owner of Frank Asaurus Fresh Productions and member of the Main Street Alliance of Florida.

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