on August 29, 2014 at 7:45 AM, updated August 29, 2014 at 11:26 AM
ELIZABETH – Maria Fernandes, the Newark woman who held three jobs and died in napping in her vehicle after an overnight work shift, was among 7.5 million people nationwide getting by on part-time employment, according to federal statistics.
“That’s the real face of the recession,” Joseph Seneca, Rutgers University professor of economics, said of Fernandes.
He cited federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that people working part-time jobs make-up about 5 percent of all the workers in the country. Although the numbers in part-time positions have dropped in recent years, it still shows the large number of people in these jobs, he said.
“The cold statistics don’t get to show the real people those that are patching these jobs together,” said Seneca, who teachers at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “This is the horrible tragic circumstances of making those jobs work,” he said of Fernandes death.
Fernandes, 32, worked for years at three separate Dunkin Donuts, in Harrison, Newark and Linden. Between jobs she would pull her 2001 Kia Sportage off the road into parking lots and take naps.
On Monday, after working an overnight shift in Linden, she pulled into a corner of a WaWa convenience store parking lot off Routes 1 & 9 about 8:30 a.m. to sleep. She was found about eight hours later, apparently overcome by fumes from the vehicle, police said.
Advocates for the working poor say more companies are turning to part-time positions to cut costs.
“Employers are offering part-time jobs because they can’t afford full-time workers particularly with the rising cost of health benefits,” said Joyce Campbell, of Catholic Charities of Diocese of Trenton. Campbell is also vice chair of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.
“There are people living on (part-time) jobs without electricity. It’s like they have to say, ‘which bill do I pay this month,’ ” Campbell said.
Friends and co-workers of Fernandes say that despite her low income, she was generous to others.
“She helped me out when I was going through some tough times. She gave me money,” said Bruce Jirinec of Linden, who often spent time with Fernandes when she worked the overnight shift at Dunkin Donuts in Linden.
Late Tuesday night, after hearing that the 32-year-old Fernandes had died while sleeping in her 2001 Kia Sportage in a parking lot in Elizabeth, Jirinec and a friend etched a chalk memorial to her in a parking space just outside the front door of the shop. Manager Sophia Paches blocked off the parking space to preserve the drawings.
Fernandes had the Sportage less than a year, and the vehicle often needed repairs, according to her longtime friend and former boyfriend, Richard Culhane. He said a mechanic who repaired the engine earlier this month had discovered a problem in an exhaust valve.
Culhane said he met Fernandes over the internet and the two were close for about three years with Fernandes even helping to care for Culhane’s three children.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have custody of my kids,” he said, referring to difficulties he had with the children’s mother.
Culhane and others spoke of Fernandes’ generous acts, such as the time she gave a homeless person a tent and a sleeping bag.
Culhane said Fernandes was born in Massachusetts. Her parents were from Portugal, and they returned there when Fernandes was about 9. She came back to the United States about 14 years ago, staying in the home of a family friend and attending school in Harrison, Culhane said.
He said Fernandes spoke four languages and was learning a fifth. “I told her she could get a better job, but she said she didn’t want to work in an office,” he recalled.
Culhane said he and a relative of Fernandes are scraping together funds to pay for a funeral.