I am 52, and I live with my parents. Any questions for me?

By Jerome Hardy, The Guardian

I still live with my parents because I only make $9 an hour working at the Pentagon. If Obama wants to address inequality, he could start by helping low-wage government contractors

Jerome Hardy is 52 and still living with his parents because he makes so little my at his job that he struggles to pay bills and support his teenage son. He serves food at the Pentagon’s Courtyard Café, where he has made $9 an hour for the past eight years. Most people at the Pentagon work directly for the US federal government, so they earn a decent salary with benefits, but Jerome is employed by a contractor. He’s opening up about his job and life today in the hopes that President Obama will make good on his promises to help struggling workers in America by starting with something the president can control: giving federal government contractors like Jerome a decent wage.

While news has leaked the the president intends to make an announcement about contract workers tonight, the executive order would only apply to new government contracts, meaning workers like Jerome might not benefit.

Leave questions for Jerome in the comments and he will answer them later today. Obama delivers his state of the union addresstonight.

1. What is your typical day like?

I get there at 8am in the morning, but winter time is slow, so I come in at 9am now. I cook in the morning. I go straight on the grille. I cook until about 1:30 or 2pm. I clean, cook, wash pots, a little bit of everything in the Courtyard Café at the Pentagon. We serve breakfast and lunch. There are typically two or three of us on duty. It varies when we get off, likely 4 or 5pm. We close at 3pm.

2. What is your salary? Do you get benefits?

I live check to check. I have made $9 an hour for eight years. I started at that, and I still make the same. As far as I know, nobody gets a raise. People have been there longer than me, and they haven’t gotten a raise. It pays a little bit of the bills, but not much. I live with my son, my mother and father and a few days a week my grandson. I help my son while he is trying to find a job, and I’m helping my parents out as they are in their 70s and 80s now. $9 doesn’t stretch far. I wish I got healthcare. My teeth are decaying. I can’t afford to do anything about it. If you take time off, you don’t get paid for that day.

3. Why did you strike last week?

I did the strike for more money and benefits. For annual leave, sick leave, something to better my life for my son and my grandson. I am trying to help my family out. The strike was on Wednesday. I got a call on Thursday morning and they said do not come in. Then they called me Friday morning and they told me to back in.

4. What do you hope Obama says in his state of the union speech tonight?

I would like President Obama to do an executive order – for everyone who works in federal buildings for private contractors to get some type of benefits and better pay. He can do it via executive authority. I am trying to do this for myself, but also for other people who work in federal buildings, all the private contractors. There are about 2 million of us – janitors and cooks and the like.

I have been at the Pentagon job eight years. I work hard every day. And I haven’t even gotten a quarter raise. I will be watching the speech tonight. I hope he signs an executive order. I am a cook. I would think at least $12 or more would be fair. That’s what I really hope for. Bust heck, just a dollar more would show some appreciation that every day I work hard. But I don’t get anything. I ask for a raise every year. My manager says he will, but then there’s nothing.

5. What’s the craziest/most unexpected thing that has happened to you on the job?

I met many famous people when at my job. Actor Gary Sinise from Forrest Gump was out there once. Mrs Obama was out in front of my store one day. Another basketball player came one day. A lot of stars come to the Pentagon.

6. What makes for a really good day on the job?

I serve a lot of military people at the Pentagon. I work hard to serve American heroes, but I shouldn’t end up with zero. That’s my favorite quote. Everyday they love my food. They always say “Call Jerome”. They want me to cook for them. They know me. The military people know me. If they don’t see me, some of them will even walk away. They want my food on the grille. They tell me that.

7. What do you wish people would understand about low-wage workers in America?

Someone said if you don’t like making $9 and hour, find something else. But it’s not that easy to go out and find something else. I’ve spent a lot of time here – 8 years. I like what I’m doing. I know everyone. I know many people in the Pentagon. It’s like family. The customers are nice to me. I love everybody out there. I just need a little more money and benefits.

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