Our Minimum Wage Is Still Too Low

Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples

2,000.

That’s the number you need to remember. Why? Because it’s the number of hours in a year’s worth of work: 40 hours a week times 50 weeks. (Got to have some time off, amirite?) And why is that helpful? Because it’s easy-peasy to multiply or divide. Let’s try it —

Minimum wage of $7.75 an hour X 2000 hours == $15,500 a year, before taxes.

Look at that number. If that leaves you speechless, good — it should. Because it’s an outrageous, immoral number.

Imagine yourself as a single mom with two kids, trying to provide a decent home on that amount of money in a year. Imagine trying to pay for childcare, and clothes, and rent, and food.

Now think about this:

That annual income is lower than the Federal poverty level.

In other words, someone working full-time is still living in poverty. Is THAT what we want for our children, our families, our state?

Now let me throw out some more numbers, just to show you how impossible our minimum wage laws are.

How much does childcare cost for those two children? If they are a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old, it costs $11,000 a year. If one is an infant, it costs even more.

Do you begin to understand why some mothers decide it just makes more sense to give up working and stay on public assistance?

Now, here’s the real kicker. Let’s forget talking about living in poverty. How much does it take for a single mom with two kids to have a reasonable middle-class life in Louisville?

Here’s your answer: $53,147. Use our 2,000-hour number, and you can quickly figure that you need to make about $26 an hour to hit that mark.

Where did I get that number? From the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator. You can put in the number of adults and children, then choose a location, and it will tell you how much it will take for a “modest yet adequate standard of living.”

So — let’s agree on some basic, moral guidelines for setting a living wage:

  • Whatever the minimum wage is set, it should be continually adjusted for inflation.
  • The Federal poverty guideline is the absolute minimum starting point. For that single mom with two children, the guideline is about $20,000 a year. (A $10 minimum wage)
  • But — most poverty programs realize that the Federal guideline is too low, so they use 133% of the guideline, or even 150% or 200%. That would be $30,000 a year, or a $15 minimum wage.
  • Ultimately, our goal should be that someone working full-time should not need government assistance to provide a secure life for their children. We’re not talking about getting rich — we’re talking about what sort of moral society we want to live in and to leave to our children.

Raising the Louisville minimum wage to the eventual $9 level was a start … but it’s not enough. We should move to at least $10 an hour, and aim for $15. Otherwise, our claim to be a “compassionate city” is betrayed by our unwillingness to back up words with deeds. Time to take our compassion out of our mouths and put it into the pocketbooks of our working poor.

Commentary

Bruce Maples

Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)


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