By Allyson Fredericksen and Linnea Lassiter
In recent years, a number of cities have raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is significantly above federal and state minimum wages. These changes have prompted debate around the country regarding what constitutes an adequate minimum. This report contributes to that conversation by providing living wage figures, finding that current minimum wage rates are far too low to meet individuals’ and families’ needs.
How many hours does a minimum wage worker have to put in to make ends meet?
Throughout the nation, the call for a $15 minimum wage is rightfully gaining momentum and – if enacted – would lift millions of low-wage workers from struggle to stability. While detractors suggest the wage is too high, a new report by the Alliance for a Just Society released today shows that $15 is really a modest demand.
The report, “Pay Up! Long Hours and Low Pay Leave Workers at a Loss” reveals that the minimum wage in many states is half the pay a single adult needs to cover basics like housing, food, utilities, and transportation.
Nationally, the living wage for a single adult ranges from $14.26 an hour in Arkansas to $21.44 in Hawaii.
At $7.25 an hour, the current federal minimum wage, workers would have to put in up to 110 hours a week (as is the case in Hawaii) to cover the basic costs of living for just one person.
The numbers are more disturbing when a worker is also supporting children – even with two parents working full time.
“A wage that keeps families trapped in poverty and despair, no matter how hard or how many hours they work, is a national crisis,” said Jill Reese, associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society.
“We know that it’s not unheard of in our country that someone is working full time and is still homeless – this is unacceptable,” Reese said.
The study calculates a living wage for a single adult in all 50 states, then reports the stunning number of hours a minimum wage employee must work in each state, Washington D.C., and nationally, to make a living.
“The answer to low wages is not expecting people to work a ridiculous number of hours, or to make severe cutbacks in basic necessities,” said Allyson Fredericksen, report author and policy analyst at the Alliance for a Just Society.
“Instead, the answer is to pay workers enough to ensure that full-time employment provides some measure of financial stability. Our research shows that’s twice the current minimum wage in many states,” said Fredericksen.
In Washington D.C. workers paid minimum wage have to work 83 hours a week to make ends meet for one person. In New York it’s 91 hours a week, and in Virginia it’s 103 hours.
Even in states like California, with a relatively high minimum wage at $9 an hour, workers there would still have to clock 86 hours a week to equal a living wage.
“Pay Up!” is part of The Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series research by the Alliance for a Just Society. The Alliance has produced the reports since 1999.
The full report is available here: Pay Up! Report (pdf)
Additional information is available on the report website: www. thejobgap.org
Alliance for a Just Society is a national policy, research, and organizing network that focuses on health, racial, and economic justice.
At a time in history when crime continues to decline, same-sex marriage is legal, and innovation is powering advances in technology and bioengineering – one issue fails to progress: racial justice.
The unemployment rate for African-Americans continues to be more than twice that of whites. Public schools are more segregated now than they were in the 1950s and young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than their white equivalents.
Widespread media coverage and outcry at the murders inside the African-American church in Charleston, and protests sparked by the killings of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, transform the statistics into real faces.
Yet outside the political sphere, there is a continued lack of recognition and acknowledgement in the U.S. that institutionalized racism and white privilege are pervasive.
Derald Wing Sue – professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, internationally acknowledged expert on multiculturalism and diversity, and author of Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence – said he asks his students:
“How many of you socialize with people who are racially, culturally different than yourself? How many of you go into communities of color to celebrate the community events, to attend Asian Baptist churches, the black churches, how many of you do that? How many of you live in an integrated neighborhood?”
The reality here is that residential racial segregation is condoning a system of institutionalized racism where specific demographics are bearing the inevitable, negative consequences of policies set by those in power. Ultimately, race – a social construct – becomes a crucial factor in the outcome of violence whether that violence be physical, economic, political, or legal.
In the Architecture of Segregation Paul Jargowsky describes the rapid re-concentration of poverty since 2000. The concentrated poverty is racial in nature and the result of measured policy choice. Exclusionary zoning has developed with the movement and investment toward suburban neighborhoods. The wealthier suburbs reject affordable housing, keeping poor and low-income individuals in the city or fading suburbs.
Ruth Peterson, retired professor of Sociology at Ohio State University and former director of the Criminal Justice Research Center, and Lauren Krivo, professor of Sociology and affiliated professor in Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, introduce the concept of racial-spatial divide in their work Divergent Social Worlds: Neighborhood Crime and the Racial-Spatial Divide. In an extensive study accumulating crime and related data for 9,593 neighborhoods in 91 cities in the year 2000, the authors verify a connection between race, place, and crime, and prove that residential segregation is the principle reason why social worlds of people are so opposing. In short, the disadvantaged are isolated from the advantaged, and it runs across racial lines.
What the Architecture of Segregation Report and racial-spatial divide illustrate are two neighborhood studies showcasing structural housing policies – which stem from racial segregation – making particular groups more susceptible to cases of violence. Exclusionary zoning and private discrimination create the concentration of urban poverty, which inevitably means education disadvantages, labor disadvantages, increased welfare dependency, social disorder, and a loss of commercial business.
And it is an argument made again and again as young men like Michael Brown are killed on the streets, igniting a demand for change, but progress is still invisible and emotions raw a year later.
In a powerful reflection on race, John Metta, an African American who spoke to an all white audience at the Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in White Salmon, Wash. said: “… People are dying not because individuals are racist, but because individuals are helping support a racist system by wanting to protect their own non-racist self beliefs.”
In the realm of racial justice, personal choice significantly reflects public policy and vice versa. Evident, are not only structural housing policies gone wrong, but also an inability to call them out.
If we commit an active effort in putting ourselves in unfamiliar situations, events, and discussions where authentic relationships and conversations can be cultivated, we can convert an increased understanding of institutionalized racism into righting the wrong and making restitution. We like to consider ourselves nondiscriminatory, multicultural, bias-free, and nonracist – yet this has yet to be transcended to a point where we are open to living side by side with each other.
It is time to demand that our political dogmas reflect the inclusive, nondiscriminatory attributes we claim to have. But first, we must represent those qualities outright.
Andrea Rocha is senior at the University of Washington and an intern at the Alliance for a Just Society.
Fast food workers in New York are getting a raise!
Hard work by our affiliates Citizen Action New York and Make the Road New York – along with dozens of other allied organizations and unions, and thousands of workers who took to the streets and shared their personal stories – has paid off in a huge victory.
Yesterday, the New York State Wage Board approved gradually raising the minimum wage for New York City fast food chain employees to $15 an hour by 2018. Fast food workers throughout New York state will gradually raise to $15 an hour by 2021.
“This is a huge victory for fast food workers, and for everyone working for low wages in New York,” said LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society. “It puts pressure on employers in other low-paying industries to start paying their workers a living wage.
“I applaud the hard work of everyone who fought for this important moment,” said Hall.
Fast food workers are paid less than any other occupation, and fast food work is projected to be the second largest growing occupation (PDF) in the country, with more openings than nearly any other.
This momentous victory brings fast food workers in New York significantly closer to earning a wage that will allow them to support themselves. It will boost their own financial stability, their communities, and the economy for all of us.
In New York and many other states, $15 is still a modest wage. This increase however allows workers to come closer to making ends meet.
In the report “Families Out of Balance” by the Alliance for a Just Society, our research shows that a living wage for a single adult is $18.47 an hour in New York state and is $22.49 an hour in New York City.
A pay raise is long overdue for all our workers nationwide. Tomorrow marks six years since the federal government last raised the minimum wage – to $7.25 on July 24, 2009.
A bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate Wednesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and in the House by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
If the wage can be raised in Seattle and New York and Los Angeles and so many other cities, it can be raised nationally – and we can do it.
Debt isn’t a personal failing – it’s a national crisis.
We are standing up for those burdened by debt that is threatening their future and ours: students, homeowners, the working poor, and those with serious illness and crushing medical debt.
We are gathering the nation – inviting everyone to come together – and help us we begin building a national road out of debt.
The future belongs to all of us. Join us on Saturday to fight for it!
“Up From Debt” will connect our experiences, share our stories, and launch a national movement that addresses debt as a deep and broad problem that needs real solutions right now.
Join us for a national online conference on Saturday, March 14 – watch it live here
What you can do right now:
Tell us your story. Fill out our brief survey on your experience with debt. We will release the results at Up From Debt.
Spread the word on social media. Use Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about Up From Debt.
Join our Thunderclap to add your voice to others the day of the event.
Watch the Up From Debt summit from your computer live Saturday, March 14.
You are not a loan – and you are not alone! People all over the country will speak in one voice to end predatory lending, and take back our future.
In response to the New York Times’ Jan. 27 Upshot piece, “Gains From Economic Recovery Still Limited to Top One Percent,” we appreciate the effort to report on the historic, staggering and blatant income inequality that has taken hold of America. This piece made some excellent points around the continuing inequality crisis. However, we have an answer to the question about the recent employment growth that has occurred in middle-class occupations:
“The puzzle is why robust employment growth over recent years — much of it concentrated in middle-class occupations — has not translated into larger income gains for the broader population. Perhaps we need to be patient, and the recent pickup in employment is yielding more broadly shared growth that will become evident when the data for 2014 are released.”
Yes, the unemployment rate is down from its Great Recession peaks. But it is still significantly higher than pre-recession levels. And, importantly, that job growth we hear so much about is primarily coming in low-wage occupations. Read more
Yesterday I got the chance to testify to the Washington state House Labor and Workforce Development Committee.
Our living wage research findings set a standard, that mere survival is not an adequate measure of a healthy society, and not an expectation we should be striving to set. It’s about a living wage that positions families to build for the future and realize their dreams. Read more
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