Two construction workers wearing neon green vests stood about two blocks from the Washington Monument on their job at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
They sat in a cloud of cigarette smoke, one drinking a Snapple iced tea, as they discussed rising costs in Washington D.C. and how for some minimum wage is not cutting it as the demographics of the city change.
Anthony Lauchie, 26, a Washington D.C. native, has been able to see the city grow. Areas like the uptown part of D.C. have redeveloped and gentrified.
“You only see it predominately in minority area,” Lauchie said. “Like I said, being here my whole life, most of D.C. has always been, not rundown, but for the most part it’s not nice. Now you go to certain places they’ve got million dollar condos. Who’s supposed to live in these condos? Not minorities.”
Lauchie’s comments come more than a year after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, where he called for Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, according to The White House. The minimum wage in Washington D.C. is even higher than that but still low-wage workers are finding it tough to get by due to the city’s high cost of living.
Lauchie, who does not make minimum wage, said the influence of the wealthy on politics means the wage will keep some people down. He believes that every year as inflation affects the value of a dollar, minimum wage should be keeping up but it’s not. People can’t maintain a healthy lifestyle on minimum wage without living paycheck to paycheck, Lauchie said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics in a 2013 report on minimum wage workers, said that nationwide nearly 5 percent of African American workers earn at or below minimum wage. For whites and Hispanics, the number is only slightly lower.
Higher minimum wages would require fast food restaurants that operate on small profit margins to raise their prices in order to be able to pay employees’ wages, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington D.C.-based think tank.
That stance is little solace for low-wage workers in the district, where the median rental price for a two bedroom apartment is $2,770, according to a February 2015 report from real estate analyst Zumper.
Maryam Khan, 19, a student at American University, works 40 hours a week for $10.50 an hour at the campus book store. Khan said there is no way she could afford to pay rent and buy groceries on that salary.
Juan Ruis, a landscaper at American University with a 4-month-old daughter, doesn’t make minimum wage but said the cost of living in the district is high. He gets to take a vacation every three years.
“You’ve gotta sacrifice,” Ruis said.
Madeline Jarrard contributed to this story.