“Have you ever tried to live on $7.25 an hour?” Coomer asks. “It was horrible.”
Today Coomer, 52, is a grandmother who manages a Valero gas station in Beattyville, Kentucky. It’s a small, homey town that earned the unfortunate distinction of being America’s “poorest white town” a few years ago.
Coomer can feel the pain of the young moms that she employs.
One of them is Melissa Allen, 34. The circles under her eyes speak volumes about her stress. Allen works two jobs — as a cashier at the Valero station and cleaning tourist cabins in the rolling Kentucky hills. Both jobs pay minimum wage.
“I’ve lived in poverty my entire life,” Allen, breaking into tears, tells CNNMoney. “There’s really no hope.”
Like many, Allen didn’t want life to turn out this way. She had what she calls a “decent job” sewing firefighter uniforms at a company called Lion Apparel. But that factory in Beattyville closed. The company offered her a spot at a factory 45 miles away in West Liberty, but she was about to give birth and couldn’t make the hour-long commute each way.
Her son Hayden, now 5, is the only thing that keeps her going.