Laboring harder, slipping behind

Ruben Rangel

Compton resident Ruben Rangel, a single father, works 80 hours a week -- as a baggage handler at LAX and as a janitor at a Ralphs supermarket -- to support his five children. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times / August 26, 2008)

Her husband works as a technician for Time Warner Cable, but they rely on her job for the family's health insurance.

"I've held my job for 15 years," Villacorta said, "but it's not secure. Every time the contract comes around, I get scared."

According to census figures, 14.7% of L.A. County residents lived below the poverty line last year, down from 15.4% a year before. The rate has declined since hitting about 18% in 2000 but remains above the statewide average of 12.4%.

More than 1 in 5 L.A. kids were living in poverty in 2007.

I spoke with Rangel as he spent a little time at home between jobs. He'd just gotten up after a couple of hours of sleep. It's rare for him to get more than three or four hours each day.

He'd joined other airline service workers in walking off the job Thursday to demand higher wages and more affordable healthcare. But Rangel returned to work Friday after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa brokered a three-week truce among labor negotiators.

Aside from mornings and his occasional days off, Rangel said, his 17-year-old son looks after the family.

"I'll do this for as long as I can," he said. "I want my kids to have more. I want them to go to college. I don't want them to work like me."

That's a Labor Day sentiment many Americans can relate to.

Hold the phone

Wednesday's column about a $2,367.40 "data service roaming charge" being tacked on to a Santa Monica family's T-Mobile bill prompted outrage among readers. It also got the company's attention.

Thierry Foucaut had repeatedly asked T-Mobile to prove that nearly 158 megabytes of data -- the equivalent of about 80 novels -- were downloaded to his wife's

BlackBerry during a brief stopover in Canada while flying last month from Los Angeles to Paris.

The company insisted that the charge was valid but never produced any documentation to support its claim.

On Thursday, Foucaut said he received a call from the office of T-Mobile Chief Executive Robert Dotson informing him that the roaming charge was being dropped. No reason was given.

"I still feel like I was not listened to by the company," Foucaut told me. "But if they want to give me a credit for the roaming charge, I will gladly take it."

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to

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