Ruby Bishop is a mother of 4 and a grandmother. She’s also a janitor at the Scripps building in downtown Cincinnati. Every night, Ruby cleans the offices of parents and grandparents whose lives are very different than hers.
As a single mom working low wage jobs, Ruby always had to rely on food stamps to feed herself and her children. While her kids were growing up, she often had to balance multiple jobs in order to keep a roof over their heads, and then barely had time to spend with them.
“Every single day was a struggle,” Ruby says. “I get so sad when I see the young moms I work with trying to do it now, because I know exactly how hard it is.”
Ruby says she inherited her work ethic from her mom, who raised 15 children by herself in Kentucky.
“She taught me to respect people and to make it on my own,” Ruby says. “So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve made it on my own, but it’s been hard.”
Ruby lives with a friend in order to afford rent. She has no health insurance, so she doesn’t take the blood pressure medicine she needs. She just can’t afford it. About a year ago, Ruby had to have emergency dental surgery. Because she didn’t have insurance and couldn’t pay the full amount, the doctor sued her for the cost of the surgery. Now her wages are garnished every paycheck to pay off the medical bill.
“I don’t go to the doctor anymore,” Ruby says. “Not for anything.”
Thousands of Cincinnatians are in the same boat as Ruby. While the CEOs of our city’s Fortune 500 companies have helped themselves to higher salaries and bigger bonuses, poverty and segregation in our city have been rising steadily. Cincinnati currently has a poverty rate of 30.6%—more than double the state poverty rate—and a child poverty rate of 48%—the third highest in the nation.
Ruby has no car and often struggles to get a ride downtown to work. She sometimes has to ask one of her kids for a ride, but she says she hates to ask them for help because they’re struggling too. 3 out of Ruby’s 4 grown children work as janitors in Cincinnati—just like their mom.
In 2007, Cincinnati janitors organized a union to improve these jobs. It was a big step forward for low wage workers in the city, but today, Ruby and her coworkers are still fighting to make these better jobs.
“I don’t want my kids to struggle like I have, but unless we improve these jobs, our kids and grandkids will suffer too,” Ruby says. “Whether it’s janitorial jobs or fast food—these are the jobs our kids and grandkids are going to be doing.”