Minimum wage, maximum poverty

rest in Greensburg, PA, 0.0 miles

As of today the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. It is the third and final increase in a phased hike in the minimum wage that began in 2007. Prior to 2007, the minimum wage had not seen an increase since it was set at $5.15 in 1997. With the latest increase someone working full-time 40 hours would earn $15,080 annually. Thirty-one states will have to increase their minimum wages as a result of the July 24 increase, while 19 states and Washington, D.C. already had a minimum wage of $7.25 or higher.

Although a full-time worker at minimum wage would find themselves well above the poverty level (in 2008 the poverty threshold in the United States was just under $11,000 for a single person, $22,00 for a family of four,) often full-time jobs are not available. More than half of all minimum-wage jobs are part-time, forcing workers to take two or three jobs to make ends meet. I can remember working at a local grocery store chain while in high school and college. Help wanted signs were always up even as the store cut the hours of existing employees to avoid having to pay the benefits that came with full-time employment.

According to the Center for American Progress, prior to the first phased increase in 2007, six million families with children—46 percent of the total low wage-earning families with children—received all of their earnings from minimum wage jobs. At the same time, it took CEOs from the 350 largest public companies, on average, only one hour and 55 minutes to earn the annual pay of a minimum wage worker. The most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show 12.5 percent of the country living in poverty, more than 37 million Americans.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, if one wage-earner holds a job paying the federal minimum wage, that household can afford to spend up to $341 in monthly rent. But there is not a single county in the whole country where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford even a one-bedroom apartment at what HUD determines to be the Fair Market Rent.

Today’s increase in the pay of the poorest Americans is a start. But if we are to make a meaningful reduction in the levels of poverty in this nation, we must do more.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper