Pay Up! Long Hours and Low Pay Leave Workers at a Loss

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.

Pay Up CoverBy Allyson Fredericksen

Pay Up! Report (pdf)

How many hours does a minimum wage worker have to put in to make ends meet?

Our table has the answer for all 50 states.

Pay Up! $15 in Not A Living Wage in Most of the Country

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.

Alliance for a Just Society is a national policy, research, and organizing network that focuses on health, racial, and economic justice.


Racial Segregation: Righting the Wrong and Making Restitution

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. 

You Are Not a Loan – You Are Not Alone!

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.

Declare your debt! You are not alone in being in debt. And you are not a loan! We are in this together. See what others have shared.

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.

Low-Wage Job Growth a Major Factor in Income Inequality. Patience is Not the Answer.

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

Testimony: A Living Wage Is about Family Prosperity

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

Who Earns a Living Wage, and Who Doesn’t?

A living wage: the ability to make ends meet, to provide for necessities as well as to have some left over for savings and miscellaneous expenses. It sounds simple, but for a large number of workers across the country, it is far out of reach. For a staggering percentage of women and people of color, it is only an impossible dream

Today, the Alliance for a Just Society releases “Equity Out of Balance,” the latest installment in the Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series. The study shows that while nationally, and in 10 states and New York City, a significant percentage of all full-time workers fall short of earning enough to make ends meet, working women, workers of color, and non-citizen workers are especially less likely to earn enough for a single adult to support herself, let alone support a family.

This staggering disparity did not come about by chance; rather, a history of discriminatory policies laid the groundwork for the disparities that still exist today. When women were denied the right to vote or to keep their own earnings if they were married; Black slaves were sold as property and freed slaves kept in a system of slave-like conditions; Native Americans forced from their homeland to barren territory; and immigrants who were not free and white were prevented from becoming citizens, a system of economic racism and gender discrimination became entrenched in the nation’s culture.

Today, the results of such policies are shown in the over-representation of women and people of color in low-wage work. Women make up 60 percent of all workers in tipped occupations, and are 70 percent of all servers in the restaurant industry. In fact, across all industries, women make up 57 percent of all workers than earn at or below the minimum wage. Similarly, restaurants are the single largest employer of people of color, and the second largest employer of immigrants.

Increasing the minimum wage and abolishing the tipped minimum wage will disproportionately help women and people of color, but more targeted solutions can help advance pay equity. Equal opportunity statues and affirmative action should address these disparities and ensure that discrimination does not keep women and people of color at the bottom of the pay scale, but such statutes must be strengthened to ensure that they are actually effective. Additionally, unionizing sectors not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (like home care workers) and fast food and retail workers will help millions of workers across the country gain access to better pay, benefits, and worker protections, and will especially help the women and people of color working those jobs.

For over two hundred years, women and people of color have been subject to policies that keep them stuck at the bottom; it’s past time for that to change.

Fair Wages Aren’t Enough, Workers Need Hours, Predictability, too

Fast-Food-EmployeesThere’s no question that working families across the country are struggling to get by; wages for most income levels have been stagnant or declining over the past decade, while the cost of living has continued to increase.

One key to helping working families is increasing wages so that there are more living wage jobs available. However, increasing the minimum wage is only part of the solution for helping families whose low-wage jobs do not always include steady work.

Living wage calculations, like those produced by the Alliance for a Just Society, must make assumptions to remain consistent year after year. One of those assumptions is that workers have jobs where they can actually work 40 hours per week, year-round (for 2,080 hours per year). For many workers, this assumption doesn’t match their reality.

For retail and restaurant workers, a steady schedule with enough hours can be hard to come by. Retail salespersons and food preparation and service workers are two of the top five occupations with the greatest projected job growth between 2012 and 2022, but are also low-wage occupations, with 2013 median annual wage of $21,140 and $18,330, respectively. These jobs are also often shift work, without set schedules. Read more