Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan stepped into a renewed debate about how to treat “squeegee kids” when he spoke on Feb. 3 in Baltimore.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week waded into the ongoing debate about “squeegee kids”—the predominantly black children and young adults who wash car windshields for untaxed cash on busy city corners.
In comments after meeting with Baltimore faith and business leaders, the Republican governor mentioned Monday that “one of the ministers had a program where they were trying to employ some of the squeegee kids, but the problem is some of those squeegee kids make 40 or 50 dollars an hour harassing people on the streets, and it’s hard to replace that with a, with a job."
It remains a contentious debate, and the governor made his position clear, saying: "I told him how I thought it was driving people from, keeping people from coming into the city, because they’re tired of being harassed on the streets.”
On Wednesday, Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young of Baltimore responded to Hogan’s comments by saying, "I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I’ve heard rumors they’re making a lot of money on those corners. Some say $200 a day; some say $100. It’s just a few I’ve heard. I don’t think anybody is making $50 an hour.”
In fact, the $40-$50 an hour figure Hogan gave is considerably higher than the figures most officials and squeegee workers cite.
It’s not clear where Hogan’s figure came from. Spokespeople for the governor’s office said they could not identify which minister made this comment. Rev. Dr. Alvin Hathaway of Union Baptist Church said he discussed squeegee workers with Hogan but did not bring up the specific amounts of money. Spokesperson Kellie Vaughn said on behalf of Bishop Dr. J.L. Carter, the president of the Ministers’ Conference of Baltimore & Vicinity, that it was Hathaway who mentioned dollar figures.
The workers’ own figures vary enough to make any fixed figure inconclusive. Some kids previously told The Sun they can make as much as $100 on good days and as little as $14 on a bad day. The workers may share what they made with those who earned less, but not enough to suggest stability.
Bino, a 17-year-old squeegee worker, said while working Wednesday evening that “on a good day, we might make 50, 60 dollars.” Some days he nets as low as $15.
“Every day is something different, you never know what you’re going to make when you start your day," he said. The Sun is withholding the workers’ last names because they’re minors.
Javon, his 17-year-old colleague, said the take can be as high as $80. In the summertime, the most he ever made was $250, with some making as much as $400, owing to the warmer weather and lack of school hours.
The numbers provided by agencies trying to find alternatives for the workers also are inconsistent.
Mayoral spokesperson James E. Bentley II declined to comment on the figures and pointed to the agency’s website, bmorechildren.com.
A prior initiative under Mayor Catherine Pugh, the Squeegee Corps Program, received feedback from workers that they weren’t making as much doing city-controlled car washes (which paid between $5 and $15 per job) as they were squeegeeing. That program fizzled after Pugh resigned in the wake of the Healthy Holly scandal.
The amount they make can vary depending on such factors as the weather, frequency of drivers and number of workers on any given corner, according to people that The Sun spoke with for this and previous articles. For some of the entities working with the squeegee kids to find alternatives, the instability and physical challenges of this work make the possibility of solutions both appealing and difficult.
Taurus Barksdale, a Democratic candidate for City Council in Baltimore’s sixth district, said he hires squeegee workers and helps connect them to other employment opportunities through his nonprofit Baltimore Beautification Project, as well as a moving company he runs. He noted that squeegee workers have told him they make as much as $100 on good days.
“I don’t know where the governor got [his figures] from, but none of those guys — I don’t care what corner they’re on, none of them are getting 50 dollars an hour,” Barksdale said.
He added that those who participate in the nonprofit’s public clean-up projects can make about $50 for four hours of work.
“I think it’s competitive with what they make on the street, but the downside with the nonprofit is that we’re actively trying to get funding, so we can’t do it as often as we want to do it,” he said.
Kai Crosby-Singleton of the Maryland College Institute of Art’s Office of Strategic Initiatives works with some of the youth on Korner Boyz Enterprises, a startup that aims to channel the kids’ entrepreneurship into other fields. He recognized that their age, the need to obtain identification and other factors can limit their access to legal and taxable employment.
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“It’s plain and it’s transparent that they do this work because it’s a job that they can access and do without having to deal with the bureaucratic things they may not have access to... raking leaves, all of these things that we see young people do, they don’t necessarily apply in an urban context," he said.
Crosby-Singleton said that he’s seen kids earn as little 50 cents in a day and as much as $200, which he added “doesn’t really matter” because squeegee workers share revenue. Some customers, including recurring ones, appreciate the workers’ hustle. But higher numbers are far from standard.
“How much they make is dependent on how patient they are, how long they’re willing to sacrifice their physical comfort to be there,” he said. “Because one of the misgivings that’s often put forward is that it’s somehow enjoyable to stand in the middle of the street and be treated as less than.”
Korner Boyz Enterprises, and programs like it, ultimately try to fight the social problems that make squeegee work appealing.
“Governor Hogan’s comments might not get to the underlying issues,” Crosby-Singleton said. “Yes, there are kids out there, but the question is: Why are they out there?”