Now he can stop working three jobs to support his family.
Clyde Persley [that's his 1977 high school yearbook picture] won $39 million in a California lottery. But the kicker is that he worked part-time as a limo driver and was on-call at Santa Cruz restaurant, while also working full-time for a company operating candy-making machines.
Here's the quote that really stuck with me:
"I really appreciate my life with Harmony Foods," he said of his 26-year stint there. "I can't say enough how much my work has meant to me."
His story started me digging for statistics about the underemployed. How many Americans work multiple jobs just to stay afloat — because of low wages, inadequate hours, seasonal employment or lack of health care coverage? How many good workers hover near the poverty line and never work their way out?
But stories of real people, not numbers, are what brought the issue home for me.
Nearly a decade ago a researcher studied how rural Utah families met their family's needs despite low-paying work:
Jill, a single mother with four children, is a good example of multiple job holding.
That year, she told me, she "made $9,000 total," several thousand dollars below the poverty threshold for her family; thus, while working four jobs, she qualified for AFDC. After a spell on AFDC, she wasn't eligible for Medicaid without a spend down or for Food Stamps because of her vehicle, and was uninsured for several years as a result. Two of her children have chronic medical conditions for which they need prescription medication, but health insurance through her job at the bank would have cost her over $200 per month and "we needed that money to live on." Food was watched carefully during that time: "we had a gallon of milk ... this has got to last all week, kids. I was really thankful that my kids could get like free lunches at school and free breakfast. So they could go to school and eat and then they'd get a good lunch and we'd work out dinner."
Jill was able to keep up that schedule for about two years because her oldest daughter assumed many responsibilities at home, including meal preparation and child care. But the strategy of multiple job holding exacted some heavy costs on the family. "I was really lucky because my oldest daughter was very, very responsible and one of the reasons I quit was because ... we still needed the money, but my daughter's grades were dropping in school because she was spending so much time helping" with the younger children. Jill quit the job at the convenience store in order to stay home in the evenings with the children. In addition to the effects on her daughter, Jill found those years took a toll on her, as well. "It was really hard emotionally. I really think I aged a lot in two years ... just worrying. The stress of trying to carry on four jobs, make ends meet, you know, wondering how we were going to pay the next bill.... So I had no choice." During the years of multiple job holding, Jill also availed herself of some church-based assistance, mostly for groceries. In her case, low wage work meant she "balanced" her budget by devoting more time to paid employment, depending on family-provided child care, using local resources for groceries, and foregoing health insurance.
Clyde Persley says "I can't say enough how much my work has meant to me" and he seems to be a pretty centered guy. Yet his secure future is a matter of pure luck.
UPDATE: Bob Herbert talks about today's job prospects of the underemployed, and they're not as good as when Clyde graduated from high school.