more than a few days late, more than a few dollars short.

The following letter to the editor appeared in the “Viewpoint” section of our student paper yesterday, the second to last issue this year:

I have worked in Building Services for two years, so most of this is about the people there, plus food service, lawn care and laundry.

South Bend has one of the highest numbers of children living in poverty as compared to other towns around the U.S., and our children are also some of the worst-educated, as reported by the South Bend Tribune. The chances of them going to college are very small. In that Notre Dame is the largest employer in South Bend, they must help stop the poverty. It’s good that they help all over the world, but take care of home first.

There are two people in my home and I qualify for help to pay heat and electric; you get help once a year. I also go to two churches every month for food. Notre Dame keeps saying that the benefits make up for the low pay, but they don’t. We need a 401K that they match up to 6 percent, not a college benefit that is no help to us.

The college benefit is not fair, because how will many of us ever use it? Even if the children made it, where would we get the extra money for room and board? Also, many workers are older and will never be able to use the benefit. If we were paid more, we could save for a college fund or retirement if needed, but there is no money left over to save. Plus, many schools offer free schooling to low-income families.

For right now, I want to be able to pay my bills. The university says we need to manage our money. I see people with food stamps eating better than I do. We don’t even get a cost of living raise.

If I was off work with no pay, I would lose my home. I am going to show you what I make and what my bills are:

Here is what I make in a month: $1,334.94

Here is the total of my bills: $1,311.00

That leaves $23.94

House payment 525.00
Heat budget 110.00
Phone 45.00
Electric budget 50.00
House/car insurance 78.00
Car, gas, etc. 160.00
Save for house tax 53.00
Old bill 50.00 Food 240.00

I shop at stores where I get a discount, I use coupons and I buy what is on sale. I do all of my trips in one to save gas. I take lunch to work, do not eat out, do not go out to bars, movies, etc. I have no cable or computer. At the end of the month, there is no money left, not even for the co-pay on a visit to the doctor. No money to take my grandkids to the zoo or pool. No money for car repairs, house repairs, or for gifts or vacations. No money to buy children’s clothes. There isn’t even money to put gas in the lawnmower.

You can’t buy a car if needed. I know two people who lost their cars and can’t afford to buy replacements. The bus only helps if you work first shift.

A lot of the other benefits that the University offers us we do not use because many people work overtime or two jobs and do not have time to play golf, go swimming, or go to the gym. I would like to see a change in some of the benefits. Maybe give us options for things that we could choose from, things that we need or would actually use.

Notre Dame always wants to be number one. Keeping campus workers and their children out of poverty would be a good place to start in achieving this goal. The University keeps promising that things are going to improve, but they have not, and we need a living wage now.

I wish that the silence following it would give those who read it time to chew on it, without other letters or controversies to crowd it out, but I’m afraid that the timing was all wrong. Students are packing up and heading out, many back to their comfortable homes or sandy beaches, and will return in the fall with renewed spirit but little reflection.

7 thoughts on “more than a few days late, more than a few dollars short.”

  1. The workers (custodians, clerical staff, etc.) on my campus are very poorly compensated too (most are paid about $15,000/yr. or less). They unionized, so the higher administration of the university (a state university), is trying to bust the union by ‘privatizing’ campus security, custodial services, etc. (While raising the compensation of the top administrators). It’s horrible, and lots of people are upset by it, but no one knows what to do about it. It seems even more ironic that a faith-based university, such as Notre Dame, should treat their workers so poorly.


  2. It seems even more ironic that a faith-based university, such as Notre Dame, should treat their workers so poorly.

    This was brought up by a member of our department in a college-wide faculty meeting a while back. Our university (and its students and faculty) does fabulous things in this community and throughout the world, but clearly we’ve got some work to do right here on campus.


  3. When I teach social problems, I have students come up with how much money is necessary to have the minimum standards of living for the town they live in. Usually, it’s for a couple with two children (a boy and a girl). The students try to cut corners–don’t need a car, the boy and girl can share a room, they don’t need to have child care (husband and wife can work opposite shifts, etc.). Even though I constantly stress that what we are trying to figure out what is minimally necessary in our culture (such as having the norm that boys and girls do not share a room), they still fight to cut every corner.

    I grew up part of my life way under the poverty line. And it’s hard trying to explain this to students who are often (not always, as I wasn’t myself) from a middle class background.

    Thank you so much for posting this. I, for one, am going to keep a copy for the next time I need to teach about income inequality.


  4. I remember a situation last year at my university when the non-faculty employees union was fighting for raises; the chairman of our board of trustees was “surprised” to learn that there were employees living bellow the poverty line.

    So often I think we take for granted that our campuses have well manicured lawns and clean offices, classrooms, and restrooms. We forget the sweat that goes into those luxuries – while we are advancing up the later of social mobility we are surrounded by people who are stuck on the bottom rung making $12.00/hr to clean up our mess.



  5. At my state school, starting pay for a custodian is $10.898 (I just looked it up). That is a gross pay of $22,667.84 a year or $1889 per month. Benefits include 13 vacation days, contribution to retirement plan. Also good health insurance HOWEVER the premium is not paid for the first six months of employment, as paying your own premium is and would be ~$1200 a month for family coverage, I assume the person would not pay it and would not have health insurance until after the six months are up, when the family premium would be at least $68 a month or $816 a year, while the individual premium would be at least $27 a month), retirement plan. Social security is 7.5% or $141.67 a month. So take home pay would be $1679, minus income tax withholding; income tax owed on assumption this is a single parent with one child too old for child care is $86, leaving $1593. So we seem to be a bit ahead of ND, but not by much. And housing is more expensive here.

    By the way, our office staff salaries are in the same range as the custodians.


  6. It’s been many years since I included an exercise like the one that pitse1eh alludes to in the earlier comment in my inequality class. However, the original letter, coupled with this discussion, has convinced me to revisit the exercise this fall, with a caveat – each group’s hypothetical family will include a ND employee (or two) of various positions in the university. While our salary data isn’t public, like a state school, hopefully I (or they) can figure it out relatively easily.


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