Living on Minimum Wage
May 30, 2012 7:25 PM   Subscribe

How many hours per week does a person have to work in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at minimum wage? Following a report (PDF) by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a rather striking infographic has been making the rounds (NYT) on the web. The bottom line: nowhere in the USA is it possible to afford a two-bedroom apartment on forty hours per week of minimum wage work.
posted by Scientist (190 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think a better measure would be whether a minimum wage could afford a one-bedroom apartment.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:29 PM on May 30, 2012 [26 favorites]


The NYT argues that this accounts well for single parents families or families where only one parent is able to work.
posted by maryr at 7:30 PM on May 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


But why should we exclude those who choose to live in overcrowded hovels from selling their labor at the price they want to?

I kid, I kid. If we can't just hand out sacks of cash to poor people (my first choice, and not solely because I'm poor), increasing the minimum wage is a decent alternative even if it does likely cost some jobs/retard growth.

(Though to what extent it costs jobs is something that's up for a considerable amount of debate. I know it's apostasy for many progressives to concede that point, and conservative think tanks both flatter their masters and end the discussion with the talking point that if it costs any jobs, it's de facto bad.)

Unfortunately, from what I've seen, the other answer (affordable housing) often ends up being a total boondoggle. I kinda hope that the New Urbanism/mixed use movement might shift some of that corruption, but I'm not sure the data is in on that.
posted by klangklangston at 7:33 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like the idea of enshrining health care and food as basic rights, but I'm not sure I want to go in the direction of saying having your own room or television is a basic right.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:33 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


When he was campaigning for the presidency, Mr. Obama promised to raise the federal minimum wage annually. That hasn’t happened. It’s the same as it was in January of 2009: $7.25 an hour.

Huh, I had forgotten that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:36 PM on May 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


I'll guesstimate and say that even on a San Francisco minimum wage ($10~/hr), you couldn't afford a one-bedroom in this city.
posted by rtha at 7:39 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whereas I would argue that decent shelter, food, and common comforts *are* basic rights for people who work 40 hours a week. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that our culture is so filled with treasure that comfortable living quarters are a basic human right. But then, the more I pay attention to the current system, the more socialist I find myself leaning. Because when we have as many billionaires and millionaires as we have, there is no excuse for a working family to live in hovels.
posted by dejah420 at 7:40 PM on May 30, 2012 [126 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero: "When he was campaigning for the presidency, Mr. Obama promised to raise the federal minimum wage annually. That hasn’t happened. It’s the same as it was in January of 2009: $7.25 an hour.

Huh, I had forgotten that
"

He probably shouldn't have promised that. There's always at least one bill in the House to raise the minimum wage, some to raise it by quite a lot. They just don't pass, or don't even come close Obama probably could have (should have) expended more political capital on these bills when the Dems had control over both houses, but I have a hard time imagining he could get a minimum wage hike through now. Bottom line: vote for different members of Congress.

Or, frankly, different state legislators. That map tells me that the minimum wage should go up everywhere, probably by a lot, but in some states it needs to go up by a lot a lot.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:41 PM on May 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


This just in - there is poverty in America and it sucks to be poor.
posted by nestor_makhno at 7:43 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


increasing the minimum wage is a decent alternative even if it does likely cost some jobs/retard growth.

Conservatives need to be aware of the feedback loop in there - the more people out there who can't even afford a place to live, the less people there are who have discretionary income to spend on things businesses sell. And employment is not as simple as a binary distinction between employed/unemployed. If something "costs jobs", but those jobs are dreadful jobs that pay barely enough to survive on anyway, it's only a marginal loss. Underemployment hurts almost as much as unemployment.
posted by Jimbob at 7:43 PM on May 30, 2012 [50 favorites]


A significant percentage of people working for minimum wage are not supporting themselves because they're teenagers living with their parents. So, how many people working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, at minimum wage are adults that need a two-bedroom apartment because they are living independently and supporting at least one other person?

The question then isn't about minimum wage, but about how to help those people that are clearly having a lot more trouble than just finding a job.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:49 PM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


I fail to see how increasing the minimum wage will do anything to solve the country's housing problem, at least in the long term. A higher minimum wage = cost-push inflation. Over time the price of rent will further increase, and the poor will only suffer more.

I would love to be corrected, but all I see is a fleeting short-term fix, if that.
posted by lobbyist at 7:49 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


For example, why do we need that person to pay taxes?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:50 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


so, here in Ann Arbor, some of the homeless (that would be those that can't afford that apartment) have been living in "camps", the most recent one has existed for over a year on a piece of property between two highways, owned by the state Department of Transportation. They are separated from neighbors by a highway, deep in the woods, if you don't know they are there, you would never notice them. A week ago there was a group that demonstrated in support of the 60+ people living there... big mistake, this week the MDOT announced they are evicting them. They are being given a stipend to live on for a while, but, the support group that had formed there, and the mutual aid that they had developed, is being dismantled.

Can't afford an apartment? Guess you'll have to live outside... wait, no, we won't let you do that either... Life's a bitch, and then you die.
posted by HuronBob at 7:51 PM on May 30, 2012 [20 favorites]


This just in - there is poverty in America and it sucks to be poor.

And nowhere in the developed world does it suck as much to be poor as in America. Poverty is a problem everywhere, the scandal is that a country as rich as the USA can fail so singularly in addressing it.
posted by howfar at 7:52 PM on May 30, 2012 [49 favorites]


A significant percentage of people working for minimum wage are not supporting themselves because they're teenagers living with their parents.

Where are you getting that from? I would like to see the data on that, because I don't believe that's true.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:56 PM on May 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


From the report: "Nationally, the average two-bedroom FMR for 2012 is $949"

Wow. My mortgage payment is less than that, by a pretty good margin.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:56 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Wow. My mortgage payment is less than that, by a pretty good margin.", but you're also paying property taxes, insurance on the property, all of your utilities, upkeep on the building, etc... I suspect if you add all that in, you're over that mark.
posted by HuronBob at 7:58 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


"I fail to see how increasing the minimum wage will do anything to solve the country's housing problem, at least in the long term. A higher minimum wage = cost-push inflation. Over time the price of rent will further increase, and the poor will only suffer more.

I would love to be corrected, but all I see is a fleeting short-term fix, if that.
"

Because the minimum wage and inflation, especially in rents, aren't directly correlated.

"For example, why do we need that person to pay taxes?"

Most of the taxes the poor face are either regressive (sales tax) or "fees" for governmental services (licenses, etc.). So while I agree with you, a lot of the people making minimum wage already get the earned income tax credit, and dispensing with their tax burden further would be complicated.

Also, there are always plenty of conservatives that bitch about poor people already not paying taxes.
posted by klangklangston at 7:59 PM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think raising the minimum wage is the wrong way to handle this issue. I mean I don't totally buy the economic argument that by creating a price floor on labor you are just increasing unemployment but I do think that that increasing the price of unskilled labor will lead to substitution for capital and drive economic activity to informal sectors. But say a minimum wage doesn't contribute to unemployment, then it functions effectively as a tax on those that employ less skilled labor and those that make use of products and services with unskilled labor as inputs. That's fine as far as it goes but I don't think that these people have a special burden to provide for the poor compared to people who run lawfirms or investment banks or software firms. I think the responsibility of making sure that everyone is provided for at a basic level is one to be shared by all Americans.

A broad earned income tax credit applied in the pay check itself, essentially a negative income tax would better address these issues than trying to set price levels for the whole country in one stroke.
posted by I Foody at 8:00 PM on May 30, 2012


I think there is a problem with going by state averages. It's expensive as shit to live in Arlington or Alexandria, but it's a relatively simple thing to move a bit further out. And even IN Arlington and Alexandria, there are cheaper places to rent than the average.
posted by empath at 8:00 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


30% of income? Seriously? Maybe it's just because I live in California, but I don't know anyone who spends that little on housing. I've never had a 2 bedroom to myself, and I've always spent at least 40% of my income on rent. And I thought I was being frugal.
posted by Garm at 8:01 PM on May 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


Eh, the infographic is misleading. It is true that you basically can't afford a 2 bedroom apartment in a major city on minimum wage. It is not, however, true that you can't afford a 2 bedroom apartment in a midsize or small city when making minimum wage.

That said, in the places I'm familiar with, it would take around half your gross, so while it's technically possible in those places, it's not really affordable.
posted by wierdo at 8:03 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Jimbob Conservatives need to be aware of the feedback loop in there - the more people out there who can't even afford a place to live, the less people there are who have discretionary income to spend on things businesses sell.

This is absolutely the most important economic error the Republicans make (and they make a lot). "High" wages increase discretionary spending, which is spent in businesses which employ people at "high" wages. I use quotes there because the height is relative. It is about the liquidity of money, not the absolute dollar amount. Paying as little as possible, the rampant cheapskatery of MBA management, is Ice-9 for the economy; it freezes the whole thing solid. Customers cannot afford to buy products and so stores cannot afford to pay the wages of the employees who as a result do not become the customers of other businesses.

This is distinct from inflation, where the price of everything goes up, including labor. If only labor price is put up, businesses get a somewhat lower margin (because labor is not the only component, and not necessarily even a major component, of production cost) however they also get sales increases, which leads to greater overall profit.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:08 PM on May 30, 2012 [41 favorites]


My two bedroom apartment comes in right at the national average (it's sort of a weird suburb price-wise, with most houses in the six or seven figures, but cheap rent) and I make at least three times the minimum wage. There is no way I could afford this alone, especially if I was responsible for the care and feeding of anything else aside from maybe a tolerant goldfish. At one point in middle school we were given random salary and job tickets and assigned a partner to develop a fake living situation in Washington, D.C. I think I was give 22k; we ended up "picking" an apartment in furthest Anacostia and buying $100 bikes to "commute" with; our 5-a-day came from oranges on sale from a grocery circular, though the closest one of those stores was at least a thirty minute bike ride. Even at the age of 12 I thought it was fairly ridiculous, and now that I have a real job and an actual rent, it's appalling that I still know people who scoff at any kind of minimum wage as being a "social wage" that really just means "a progressive-approved way of life."
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:15 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'll admit that the infographic is subject to a little bit of wiggle in terms of how important the measures its using are. I don't think it's proposing an unrealistic scenario, though; I will say that I've always been told that the fiscally responsible thing to do is to budget no more than 1/3 of one's gross income for housing costs, for instance. Also, there are plenty of people (c.f. my entire neighborhood here in New Orleans) trying to raise a family on minimum wage or close to it, and they're looking for two bedrooms minimum -- one for the parent(s), one for the kid(s), and a living room/kitchen combo of some sort. It's not at all an unusual situation for a person to be in in this country, I meet dozens of people in this position every day.

Additionally, it's not always possible for poor people to just move to somewhere more affordable. For one, a more rural area with a lower cost of living might not have many jobs available, minimum wage or otherwise. For another, poor people are often dependent on their social networks (the old-fashioned kind, that is) in order to survive -- and uprooting oneself tends to severely curtail one's access to friends & family, forcing one to eventually build that support network all over again. Thirdly, someone who is living paycheck-to-paycheck is probably going to have a hard time coming up with first month + deposit on a new apartment -- it doesn't matter if they'll get the deposit money back from their old landlord (and good luck with that, where slumlords are concerned -- I'm currently suing my old one, for what anecdote is worth) if they can't come up with the up front costs on resettling somewhere new.

So I agree that it's not a universally applicable graphic for every U.S. citizen making minimum wage, but I think it still helps illustrate the impossible bind that many people in this country are stuck in.
posted by Scientist at 8:19 PM on May 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


A significant percentage of people working for minimum wage are not supporting themselves because they're teenagers living with their parents.

Where are you getting that from? I would like to see the data on that, because I don't believe that's true.

I would think it would be obvious, but OK.

But, OK.

Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly-paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the Federal minimum wage or less. Among employed teenagers paid by the hour, about 23 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with about 3 percent of workers age 25 and over. (See table 1 and table 7.)

Teenage employment goes up in the summer months, just as you would expect to see from an age group that's being supported in school.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:19 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think raising the minimum wage is the wrong way to handle this issue.

Social housing that isn't "the projects" or Section 8. Tried and tested elsewhere, but impossible in the US, I suppose, because because the rent/own ratio is skewed in stupid ways, there are all sorts of taboos around it, and it means giving something to The Poors.

Lots of vacant McMansions out there.
posted by holgate at 8:32 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


23.4% of minimum wage workers in 2011 are teenagers. 899k minimum wage workers are teenagers. 2930k are not.
posted by demiurge at 8:39 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


30% of income? Seriously? Maybe it's just because I live in California, but I don't know anyone who spends that little on housing. I've never had a 2 bedroom to myself, and I've always spent at least 40% of my income on rent.

A lot of managers I've dealt with won't let you have a place in California if the rent is significantly over 30% of gross income.
posted by LionIndex at 8:40 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


CPB, the link within the article seems to suggest only around ~20% of minimum wage workers are teenagers:
But as we note in our report, recent analysis shows that 78% of minimum wage workers work at least 20 hours per week, and 80% are at least 20 years old. So when we’re talking about minimum wage workers, we’re not talking about high school kids in after-school jobs.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:40 PM on May 30, 2012


I said "significant percentage." I think 1/4th qualifies.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:40 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think 1/4th qualifies.

...does this mean that 1/5th wouldn't qualify?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:46 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Arguably, though, some of those 23.4% will also be offsetting costs either directly, by helping with the rent or utilities, or purchasing food and clothes that their guardians would have to provide otherwise. Some of them may even be parents themselves, or be paying rent on their own apartment. I don't know why teenagers who work a minimum wage job are somehow a wholly different statistic than adults; the point remains that it's really hard to survive on minimum wage funds in many urban places in the United States.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:47 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


The NYT argues that this accounts well for single parents families or families where only one parent is able to work.
"in 94 percent of families with adults who work a job that pays at or below the minimum wage, the spouse works as well. In about 8 out of 10 of those families where children are present, the minimum wage job accounts for less than twenty percent of their household income. In other words, the majority of adult minimum wage earners are providing a small supplement to the income of a higher-earning spouse."

JUST GETTING BY? INCOME DEPENDENCE ON MINIMUM WAGE JOBS[pdf] Bradley R. Schiller, Department of Economics, University of Nevada-Reno
posted by BobbyVan at 8:53 PM on May 30, 2012


Let them eat cake?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:55 PM on May 30, 2012


"I said "significant percentage." I think 1/4th qualifies."

Sure, but what are you arguing? That the percentage of kids/non-head-of-household workers invalidates the assumption of two-bedroom housing. But that doesn't necessarily follow, especially given that it requires ignoring that for about 4/5ths of minimum wage workers, they aren't subsidized students.

It seems like you tried to make a contrarian case by looking at outlier data and ignored that the vast majority of minimum wage workers are working poor.
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 PM on May 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


Whereas I would argue that decent shelter, food, and common comforts *are* basic rights for people who work 40 hours a week.

I'd agree that food, shelter and healthcare are basic rights we should all have, especially those that work 40 hours a week. What do you call "common comforts", though? Computers, televisions, cars, cell phones...do you consider any of those basic rights? And shelter, is that really a two-bedroom apartment for a single person? Because I grew up sharing rooms with my sisters and my parents scrimped and saved just to get that house, and that's when the economy was better than it is now.

I think the minimum wage should AT LEAST go up with inflation and rising costs of living every year, but of course "cost of living" is hard to assess, too. Gas is absurdly expensive now, so is housing, unemployment is high, but the. Rich get richer.

How do you figure out what's fair in our economy, when our economy makes no sense?
posted by misha at 8:57 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is true for the big, expensive coastal cities but it's not true in the much of the middle of the country. Around here many two bedrooms are available for $500/month, and those are definitely non-hovels...they have central air, ceiling fans, built in washer and dryer, etc. Generally safe buildings and neighborhoods. Built, say, in the last 10 or fifteen years. You can get cheaper than that outside of big cities and college towns.

So say about $1,100 month income at full-time minimum wage, then add on a few social welfare programs and you certainly afford to live. Won't be a glamorous lifestyle or anything though.
posted by aerotive at 9:05 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The original report (second link in the FPP) does address the two-bedroom versus one-bedroom issue:
Yet, the lack of aff ordable housing is not an issue constrained to high-cost, urbanized regions. In fact, according to Out of Reach calculations, a worker earning the renter wage is unable to aff ord a two-bedroom unit in nearly every state, unless they pick up extra hours by cobbling together several jobs. In 28 states, the one-bedroom FMR exceeds the rent affordable to the average renter. And, in all but one state (WY), the two-bedroom FMR exceeds the rent affordable to the average renter.
(FMR: fair market rate, "40th percentile of gross rents for typical, non-subsidized rental units")

The assumption of affordability is that it's burdensome to pay more than 30% of household gross income for gross housing costs.
posted by gingerest at 9:09 PM on May 30, 2012


Too bad cities can't export housing. Toledo would be undercutting y'all.
$450 for a two bedroom, not a complete shit hole, either.
posted by charred husk at 9:10 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"And shelter, is that really a two-bedroom apartment for a single person? Because I grew up sharing rooms with my sisters and my parents scrimped and saved just to get that house, and that's when the economy was better than it is now. "

At the risk of derailing, the article is not about a two-bedroom house for a single person, really. It's using that as a proxy for households. Secondly, it's worth avoiding the Four Yorkshiremen that often accompanies poverty discussions, turning scrimping into a moral virtue and keeping the focus on the behavior of the poor and whether or not they deserve help.
posted by klangklangston at 9:13 PM on May 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


So it seems to me there are many factors at play, and many actors involved. This is really bleak stuff, and while I agree with BuddhaInABucket that maybe a two-bedroom is an unreasonable measure here, even a one-bedroom would be a lot of money on minimum wage.

On one hand we have a very low minimum wage when measured against the cost of living in the US. It's always a little misleading when you hear stuff on the radio about how the average villager of third world country X makes N dollars a month, since they never tell you how much it costs to survive in X. But in the US it costs a fair amount of money.

On another hand we have middle class wages that haven't really ticked upwards since, I dunno, the 70s? (I read it somewhere, honest!)

And finally, we have an insatiable desire for inexpensive goods. Affordable tomatoes, electronics (I know, they're all made in China), service at restaurants, coffee, etc. Now, I'm not arguing that we should keep a lower class because cheap goods are necessary. But what happens to a latte when the barista makes $25 an hour? How many coffees does this shop make in an hour? Will your coffee suddenly be, I dunno, $8? Would you keep buying it every day at that price?

This seems pretty complicated to me, and I don't have an answer. But it seems supply, demand and price elasticity, combined with unchanging middle class wages, have us set up in a system where if we want the stuff we like at the price we're willing to pay, somebody who makes almost nothing has to be there to make it.

:(
posted by braksandwich at 9:16 PM on May 30, 2012


Just as a comparison point, in Australia the minimum wage is $15.51 per hour or $589.30 per week, or about $30k a year. Thirty percent of that, $200 a week, should readily find you a three bedroom house in a regional centre, and I just searched http://www.realestate.com.au/ and discovered 1201 properties with 2+ bedrooms for >$200 p.w. in Melbourne. (Oh did I mention our unemployment rate is about 5 percent? )

Yet our housing market is considered to be a major bubble.

Really the issue for the US is NOT house prices, it is entirely shittily low wages.
posted by wilful at 9:18 PM on May 30, 2012 [39 favorites]


I think a better measure would be whether a full-time minimum wage could afford a "studio" or "efficiency" apartment.

The problem is primarily due to zoning restrictions in most places, and people who try to obey those restrictions and other laws.

Many of my older relatives got their first "adult" places in something called, I think they said, it was so long ago, pardon me if I am wrong, "Rooming Houses". Perhaps some archaeologist or linguist here can define that term for us all in terms we can understand.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:18 PM on May 30, 2012


Misha, getting a job today involves going online, especially if you're trying to find a job as quickly as possible by applying to as many listings as possible.

If you live in the city, you're more than halfway there with WiFi and consistent phone service so you pretty much just need a basic internet-enabled phone (since those companies should be able to call you back, otherwise I'd say a computer would be just as good), but that's still a lot of money for someone who can barely buy food for themselves (and any family) much less pay for a mobile/data plan.

So yeah. I would say that access to the internet is a basic right, especially since WiFi is -free- in most cities and mid-sized towns now, as well as colleges. A cheap cell phone, usually way, way cheaper than paying for a land line, should be a basic right.

Just my two cents though.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:23 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm in a $500/month 2 bedroom house, with a yard and a basement and everything. There are down sides, though: I have to live in Sioux City, Iowa.

Just as a comparison point, in Australia the minimum wage is $15.51 per hour or $589.30 per week, or about $30k a year.

Fun! A lot of US mefites, myself included, get go to work tomorrow knowing that they're making minimum Australian wage at jobs that required a college degree.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:23 PM on May 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


Hell. I take it partially back. A basic cell phone alone would be enough for those with access to Internet cafes, but most don't even have enough to pay for clean water so *shrug*.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:24 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


^ Leaving aside the part where you are again assuming that every minimum-wage earner has no dependents, the original report calculated the number of hours a worker earning the federal minimum wage would have to work to afford FMR housing for an efficiency, a one-bedroom apartment, and a two-bedroom apartment, under the 30% of income assumption, and respectively it was 75, 85, and 101 hours. The average cost difference in these housing options is not that high, unfortunately.
posted by gingerest at 9:26 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think a better measure would be whether a full-time minimum wage could afford a "studio" or "efficiency" apartment.

In general, aren't these more expensive than a per-person share of a multiple bedroom apartment? I've never been able to afford any of the studios in my area, and I was under the impression that was similarly true elsewhere?
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:28 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


especially since WiFi is -free- in most cities and mid-sized towns now,

Huh?
posted by desjardins at 9:28 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Kkang, I'm agreeing with you. Point is, my parents both worked and made more than minimum wage and the economy was better than it is ow and it still wasn't easy.

That said, these charts are WAY off for Florida.

First off, we have no state or local income tax, so spending more than 30% on housing is not as much of a hardship here as in states that do. And even for people who wouldn't have to pay income tax anyway, our sales tax is between 6 and 7%, depending on the county, while in other states it is much higher.

More significant than that, though, is that it is often cheaper to buy a home than to rent here, yes, even with utility costs, because we have that $25000 homestead exemption.

So in a lot of ways, we are better off than the charts make us look.
posted by misha at 9:29 PM on May 30, 2012


What do you call "common comforts", though? Computers, televisions, cars, cell phones...do you consider any of those basic rights?

On the face of it I'm inclined to agree that those things are luxuries or discretionary items. Unfortunately, things like "access to the internet" are now being assumed as a baseline for societal connectivity -- not just for things like reading news and staying in touch with friends, but in applying for jobs, accessing government forms, and access to learning materials for the oft-preached upskilling.

Libraries, post offices, and other baseline mechanisms for connectivity are being gutted, and in many cases "they can get it online" is offered as an excuse. If that trend continues, then no -- I wouldn't say that access to the communications and civic infrastructure is a luxury.
posted by verb at 9:33 PM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


What's even harder to live on is: not having a job at all. In general, the higher the minimum wage is, the more people won't have jobs. The minimum wage doesn't force anyone to hire anyone; it just tells employers: "If you hire someone, it'll cost you more." People are less likely to do things that cost more money.

And even putting all that aside, I have no idea why affording a 2-bedroom apartment is the standard.
posted by John Cohen at 9:33 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My two bedroom apartment is 700/mo. Per a recent askme you can get a grocery store shelf stocking job here pays 10 bucks an hour, which is 1600/mo. That is cutting it very close, sure. But: 1.) there are many tens hundreds thousands people in this country making 80-90 K/ yr with house payments or rent payments that are in the 40 - 50 percent range; 2.) I live in a very nice apartment and there are obviously cheaper quarters to be had around here.

Move to Houston! It's filled with fundies and rednecks but we got jobs and you can get a really nice two bedroom apartment for 700 a month.
posted by bukvich at 9:34 PM on May 30, 2012


HUD affordability standard is that housing costs are not more than 30% of your gross income, not net, which makes a large difference-- and HUD considers basic utilities (electric, gas, water, sewer garbage) to be part of household housing costs.

In Oregon, minimum wage is $8.80 an hour.
$8.80x40=$352 a week, $1408 a month
30% of that gross wage is $422.40, which is not anywhere near enough to afford rent on anything at all in the Portland area, not even a studio-- let alone utilities.

After taxes (25% taxes, which is probably a little low), this is about $1056 net/take-home income. Even if this household manages to find an affordable place ($422), that leaves less than $650 a month for all other expenses--transportation, food, clothes, medical costs, everything. That's just not reasonable, and would be damn near impossible for a single parent.

In addition, on average, for every dollar a working family saves on housing (by moving farther out to those 'more affordable locations', they spend 77 cents more on transportation-- so they're not really coming out ahead, overall. And by forcing low-income households to live farther from their workplaces, you're creating more commuter congestion and air pollution.
posted by Kpele at 9:37 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


"What's even harder to live on is: not having a job at all. In general, the higher the minimum wage is, the more people won't have jobs. The minimum wage doesn't force anyone to hire anyone; it just tells employers: "If you hire someone, it'll cost you more." People are less likely to do things that cost more money."

However, that relationship is often overstated by conservatives — since it's not at all linear — and ignores actual data about employment demand, i.e. the job losses tend to be short term and temporary, while also ignoring the benefits that come from having a higher minimum wage.

And even putting all that aside, I have no idea why affording a 2-bedroom apartment is the standard.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at how simplistic your previous paragraph was, since you clearly haven't bothered to read the fucking article or the fucking comments already posted.
posted by klangklangston at 9:38 PM on May 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


Just as a comparison point, in Australia the minimum wage is $15.51 per hour or $589.30 per week, or about $30k a year.

Fun! A lot of US mefites, myself included, get go to work tomorrow knowing that they're making minimum Australian wage at jobs that required a college degree.


It's actually worse than that jason_steakums. I don't know of any metro jobs that actually pay the minimum wage - the minimum wage is mostly just legislation. I worked weekends at a major supermarket in Melbourne, scanning groceries and stocking the liquor and cigarette counter and I was pulling in $30 per hour due to the 50% weekend penalty rate, and that's the absolute minimum probationary first 3 months pay - it went up further once you were out of that period. If I worked past 9pm the rate went to $35 per hour: overnight restock of shelves was $45 per hour and up. Public holidays the rate went up to $60 per hour, for just scanning groceries.

During the week I worked at a large multinational as an analyst...

On the flipside the state is bleeding jobs and this probably looks like the final days of Rome before it crumbles.
posted by xdvesper at 9:39 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Point is, my parents both worked and made more than minimum wage and the economy was better than it is ow and it still wasn't easy."

Ah, gotcha. Sorry for misreading you.
posted by klangklangston at 9:39 PM on May 30, 2012


"Wow. My mortgage payment is less than that, by a pretty good margin.", but you're also paying property taxes, insurance on the property, all of your utilities, upkeep on the building, etc... I suspect if you add all that in, you're over that mark.


For me, at least, taxes and insurance are rolled into the mortgage payment. Utilities and upkeep are not, but I can deduct both the property taxes and the interest on the mortgage from my income taxes. I absolutely pay less now then when I rented a smaller, less private place. We've stacked the deck against renters.
posted by tyllwin at 9:39 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is true that you basically can't afford a 2 bedroom apartment in a major city on minimum wage. It is not, however, true that you can't afford a 2 bedroom apartment in a midsize or small city when making minimum wage.

Well, do you want to have busboys and janitors and day-care assistants and hospital orderlies and convenience store clerks and people who stock the shelves at every store and clean the toilets in every public restroom in any given major city or not? Because those jobs are minimum-wage jobs, and someone has to do them, unless you don't want restaurants, stores, hospitals or bathrooms in your major city.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:41 PM on May 30, 2012 [20 favorites]


In general, the higher the minimum wage is, the more people won't have jobs.

In general, that's a really lazy statement.

even putting all that aside, I have no idea why affording a 2-bedroom apartment is the standard.

Because the majority of households consist of adults and children, there's a fanciful belief that kids shouldn't share a bedroom with their parents, and the privately rented two-bedroom apartment is as close as it gets to Generic Housing Product for such households in the US. I appreciate that living in Manhattan may skew one's perspective on this.
posted by holgate at 9:44 PM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


bukvich, it's a lot easier to spend 50 percent of your income on housing when the other 50 percent is still enough to cover such things as food, medicine and gasoline.

People who are making $1,600 a month and spending $700 a month on rent have $900 left to pay for utilities, car payments, insurance payments, transportation, and food.

People who are making $7,500 a month and spending $3750 a month on rent have $3750 to spend on food, gas etc. Which, hey! Guess what! Costs the same no matter how much money you make.

Besides, the subject of this post is minimum wage and $10 an hour is not minimum wage in most places in the United States. It is well above minimum wage.

Anecdata: The last time I worked for minimum wage, which was several years ago, I had to work 60-70 hours a week in order to afford a crappy two-bedroom apartment shared with two roommates. I could not also afford a car, and there were times when I could not afford food. The idea of going to the doctor, ever, was an absolute joke.

And by the way, the last time I worked for minimum wage I was not a teenager -- I was a twenty-something with a college degree.
posted by BlueJae at 9:45 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, in CA people commute 3-4 hours sometimes for those cheap jobs (I don't know how). I suspect there is a lot of sleeping in cars. Personally, I'd like to see some minimum level of housing (studio, efficiency) affordable for minimum wage people even in the urban core. I think the idea of providing affordable family housing, while noble, is a dangerous thing if we are forcing a miserable commute on people in conjunction with it. That leads to the kind of unsustainable lifestyle where everyone is one inevitable car breakdown from homelessness.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:45 PM on May 30, 2012


Only spend 30% of your income on your accomodation? Someone needs to tell that to my bank.

My bank tried to sell me a mortgage. The nice woman on the phone cold called me and congratulated me on being frugal with my money over the last few years, suggested I buy a place, they were willing to lend me... X amount of money, where X is a really large number. The mortgage repayments would have been something like 75% of my take home income. This is in Australia, the land of usurious interest payments (variable rates were 7.5%, historically it has been even higher and at the time we weren't sure if it was continuing to go up)

I started laughing, and told her it's all very good if you want to lend me that much money, but that I didn't think there was any way I could pay it back, and she said with a straight face that 75% of take home income was doable.

I suppose something like this happened in the US during the subprime crisis...
posted by xdvesper at 9:47 PM on May 30, 2012


howfar: "the scandal is that a country as rich as the USA can fail so singularly in addressing it."

There's no failure. Every bit of the current status quo is intentional.
posted by schmod at 9:48 PM on May 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


John Cohen, I'm far from an economist - but economists themselves appear split over whether raising the minimum wage actually contributes to unemployment.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:53 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


but economists themselves appear split over whether raising the minimum wage actually contributes to unemployment.

And the real world data from other countries appears to say the idea is nonsense.
posted by wilful at 9:58 PM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


(How did you know she had a straight face if she was on the phone, xdvesper?)
posted by Mooseli at 10:01 PM on May 30, 2012


increasing the minimum wage is a decent alternative even if it does likely cost some jobs/retard growth.

Conservatives need to be aware of the feedback loop in there - the more people out there who can't even afford a place to live, the less people there are who have discretionary income to spend on things businesses sell. And employment is not as simple as a binary distinction between employed/unemployed. If something "costs jobs", but those jobs are dreadful jobs that pay barely enough to survive on anyway, it's only a marginal loss. Underemployment hurts almost as much as unemployment.

Usually the talking point is that there is a "moral hazard" in paying people more money for less labor, which supposedly makes people not want to "innovate" in the marketplace. To some extent, this make sense. If I got paid $100 an hour to do some repetitive task for 40 hours a week, yeah, I'd probably sit around collecting a paycheck instead of doing something more productive for the economy. And if my labor was worth significantly less than $100 an hour, that would be money sucked straight out of the system and never contributed back in (except as consumer spending). Now let's say that I have some innovative idea of how to improve the efficiency of said repetitive task, but the opportunity cost of giving up that $100 an hour paycheck given the risk of starting a business is too great. In that case, I don't innovate and the market is harmed, because entrepreneurship is disincentivized.

But this is not true for minimum wage jobs. If you're earning $7.50 an hour mopping floors, you're not more likely to start a competing mopping service than if you made $9.50 an hour. Conservatives seem to think that this is exactly what the poor should do: if you're not making enough money, just start your own business! But if you're poor, you have zero capital, and limited access to loans. Until your income reaches a certain threshold, innovation isn't even a possibility. This isn't a bipartisan point, this is reality.

Ironically, it's the white-collar jobs that disincentivize innovation. Why give up a decent salary at a well-established firm to found a start-up? There is more of a "moral hazard" in paying an office worker a cushy wage than in doubling the janitor's hourly wage. (To say nothing of the fact that access to healthcare is tied to full-time employment in the U.S.)

If conservatives were really all about "job creation" and small businesses, they would support any effort to put average workers in a position to compete with their employer. But of course, they don't. This is just another smoke-and-mirrors game to blame the poor for their own misfortunes.
posted by deathpanels at 10:25 PM on May 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


(How did you know she had a straight face if she was on the phone, xdvesper?)
posted by Mooseli at 10:01 PM on May 30 [+] [!]


Well, I was laughing when I said that. I expected her to laugh as well, at the absurdity of a bank policy that would lend a customer that much. But she repeated her offer in a completely serious voice.
posted by xdvesper at 10:31 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So how many minimum wage jobs are out there that actually schedule you for 40 hours a week?
posted by grizzly at 10:39 PM on May 30, 2012 [22 favorites]


It is true that you basically can't afford a 2 bedroom apartment in a major city on minimum wage. It is not, however, true that you can't afford a 2 bedroom apartment in a midsize or small city when making minimum wage.

Well, do you want to have busboys and janitors and day-care assistants and hospital orderlies and convenience store clerks and people who stock the shelves at every store and clean the toilets in every public restroom in any given major city or not? Because those jobs are minimum-wage jobs, and someone has to do them, unless you don't want restaurants, stores, hospitals or bathrooms in your major city.


This is one of the reasons that government should heavily subsidize mass transit: it allows people to live far from city centers where rent is low and nevertheless provide services in big cities at good rates. In other words, mass transit helps to reduce wage inflation.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:41 PM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


it allows people to live far from city centers where rent is low and nevertheless provide services in big cities at good rates.

And it's fab for the people who get to work for slave wages AND also get to sit in a smelly bus for another six hours per day.
posted by maxwelton at 10:58 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Snarl Furillo: "Well, do you want to have busboys and janitors and day-care assistants and hospital orderlies and convenience store clerks and people who stock the shelves at every store and clean the toilets in every public restroom in any given major city or not? Because those jobs are minimum-wage jobs, and someone has to do them, unless you don't want restaurants, stores, hospitals or bathrooms in your major city."

I made no value judgement nor offered any opinion, only an observation that I thought might be helpful to the discussion.

Since you would apparently like it, yes, I think the minimum wage is far too low in this country. I also think it's ridiculous it doesn't have regional cost of living adjustments nor automatic increases tied to CPI. Unfortunately, there are a very large number of people who think to themselves "oh, I struggled to afford my first place", forgetting that many people are condemned to live that way for most or all of their lives, often (but not always) through no fault of their own.
posted by wierdo at 11:01 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


demiurge: "23.4% of minimum wage workers in 2011 are teenagers. 899k minimum wage workers are teenagers. 2930k are not"

The core argument is that young people earn minimum wage; even if they're not strictly "teenagers." Let's consult table 7 instead of table 1, which breaks down the granularity so we don't have to do the arithmetic ourselves. You can see that people under 25 account for 49.5 percent of the total population working for minimum wage, and 19-24 accounts for 26.0 The median age of 25 is substantially below. The next bucket, 25-29, shows half the rate, and it only falls from there. The real question is why there's an uptick at 20-24, and I figure it's family support bias. You may prefer no job at all to a minimum wage job, but that option disappears as parental support wanes. That plus waiting tables in college part time may explain some of the gap.

So how many minimum wage jobs are out there that actually schedule you for 40 hours a week?

Quite a few actually. Reading table 9, 60 percent of minimum wage jobs are 40 hours a week. I suppose it makes sense; I worked more than that without overtime pay in the summers in high school. It's not like employers have much incentive to manage tons of employees working a few hours a week; not sure what will happen to those working sparse hours when the employer mandate takes effect. If nothing addresses them in the law I assume those jobs simply vanish.

But going to the core point of this infographic, we know it's hard to raise a family on one minimum wage income, which is why we have Head of Household status, earned income refundable credits, saver's credits and a heavily skewed Social Security system.
posted by pwnguin at 11:10 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh everything is so fucked up I don't want to think about it.
posted by hellojed at 11:12 PM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is one of the reasons that government should heavily subsidize mass transit

Yes, you need mass transport from cheaper suburban/rural areas into the city center--simple bus lines would be easy as hell to start--but suburbanites like it just fine the way it is. They escaped to their cars-only areas and they want to keep that barrier up. Suburbanites dread seeing a busload of city people get off in their neighborhood.

And to make sure that doesn't happen, suburbanites want to make you buy a free-standing home there if you're going to live there. It's intentionally difficult to find affordable rental units in suburbia. Lots and lots of suburbanites have extra rooms or entire floors they could convert and rent, and lots of those people really need that extra money, and of course developers could put up large apartment buildings outside the city, but zoning keeps that stuff to a minimum because no one out there wants city people moving in unless they have the cash to buy a free-standing frame house with lawn ornaments out front and two cars in the driveway.
posted by pracowity at 11:13 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


And it's fab for the people who get to work for slave wages AND also get to sit in a smelly bus for another six hours per day.

I think esprit de l'escalier meant good mass transit. Heavy rail, with express trains between regional and intra-city hubs...etc.

Sydney's mass transit system is appalling when compared to true global cities, but you can still live on the city fringes and commute to the CBD by train with a commute of less than an hour (if you are fortunate enough to live near a station, and catch an express train).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:18 PM on May 30, 2012


Minimum wage is a difficult problem when most people have no subsistence or home industry options that compete with full-time jobs. Additionally, putting a floor on the wages of low-skill, routine jobs is difficult when the job has to compete with automation. These are hard problems to solve.
posted by michaelh at 11:29 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This has nothing to do with minimum wage. It is everything to do with skyrocketing rental prices.

Record foreclosures + former homeowners (for instance, trying to keep their kids in the same school district) = less apartments unavailable - or at higher prices.

Millions who were foreclosed on are living in rental units. Supply and demand.

It hurts the economy, it hurts the middle class and weakens the nation.
And yes, it freaking sucks.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 11:37 PM on May 30, 2012


It seems like a significant part of this problem is that there are just so many damn minimum wage jobs these days (I mean, of the jobs that there are, a greater and greater proportion of them are minimum wage or very close to it). If only a small slice of our working population made minimum wage and a massive slice earned what we could call a "middle class wage," then we probably wouldn't be having this discussion. It would obviously still be a problem for that group of people who had trouble obtaining affordable housing, but it would seem a lot more reasonable to tackle that problem through subsidized housing, tax credits, or other transfer payments.

But I'd argue that the middle class has been shrinking and the minimum wage class growing, which all of the sudden makes this the kind of problem that we can't reasonably solve with those solutions. But will raising the minimum wage solve the problem of the receding middle class? It's hard to say that it would. So while I can heartily agree this is problematic, I'm more enthusiastic about proposals that contemplate restoring the middle class, and less enthusiastic about proposals that keep the minimum wage class the minimum wage class, but just make sure the minimum wage is a little bit higher.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:51 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Additionally, putting a floor on the wages of low-skill, routine jobs is difficult when the job has to compete with automation.

Automation and offshore workers. How much does a Chinese factory worker earn?

It is everything to do with skyrocketing rental prices.

If houses are empty or underused, they could be rented, subdivided. Rooms could be let. But the local zoning laws probably don't allow that, do they?
posted by pracowity at 11:52 PM on May 30, 2012


And it's fab for the people who get to work for slave wages AND also get to sit in a smelly bus for another six hours per day.

People who are making minimum wage in big cities are forced to cut expenses like rent and food. Better mass transit means that they can live farther and spend less on rent and food while keeping their jobs. It's good for them because it gives them options — by giving them residential choices and by opening them up to more jobs farther from their homes. It's good for employers because they can have a larger labor pool, and can find people who are a better fit (or will accept smaller wages). It's good for customers because the smaller wages can be passed on as cheaper products. Everyone gets a piece of the pie.

I think esprit de l'escalier meant good mass transit. Heavy rail, with express trains between regional and intra-city hubs...etc.

Yes, the faster, more comfortable, and more efficient the mass transit, the more effective it is at convincing people that working farther from home is not an issue, and so the greater its benefit.

Suburbanites dread seeing a busload of city people get off in their neighborhood.

Agreed, and it's unfortunate because those people are providing services that make things cheaper for everyone.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:53 PM on May 30, 2012


Additionally, putting a floor on the wages of low-skill, routine jobs is difficult when the job has to compete with automation.

That actually works in people's favour. The jobs don't compete with automation, their productivity-per-hour is increased by automation. (If they do compete, that should be fixed, by moving labor to where it is useful). When you make labor more expensive, it provides incentive to get more per hour (instead of more hours for next-to-nothing) which produces an economy both larger and more efficient, which easily supports higher wages.

The idea that there is a largely fixed amount of production and if we automate then there will be no jobs left for people, isn't really true, and it's been consistently not true for a century now. What happens is that the economy grows, and the jobs it demands change (which is always rough for many, but isn't the same as fewer jobs). The jobless recovery in the USA today is not the product of automation.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:55 PM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


It also works both ways. In some countries, they make gravel by hand. Men take stones, and chip them with hand tools. This is because their labor is so cheap there is no incentive to operate a stone breaking machine.
You don't want to live there.
A society's prosperity is how much wealth a member can produce per hour. Lots of automation means lots of production per worker hour, which means lots of prosperity.

Automation shifts the needs required of workers, as new technology means new types of job appear while others disappear. Having your trade disappear and having to adapt to a new normal is rough. But producing gravel by hand all day, and then having to subsist on the value of that gravel, is much rougher.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:05 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it flies in the face of reality to assume that we can construct a "minimum wage" but we can't construct a "maximum wage". Once somebody is earning more that a thousand other people, we should be able to cap that as a maximum wage. I mean, really, how greedy do you need to be? I can't believe you think that you are one thousand times better, or that you are working one thousand times harder. Maybe you just got lucky. Maybe you're in a place where the system is giving you unusually large rewards for doing very little. But the rest of us are part of the system; please be respectful.

You need to play with the rest of us, Mr. Billionaire, because there's nothing in the social contract that keeps us from eating you.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:05 AM on May 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


You need to play with the rest of us, Mr. Billionaire, because there's nothing in the social contract that keeps us from eating you.

The traditional amendment to the social contract is Hired Men With Guns. When everyone is poor and labor is cheap, then it doesn't cost very much to pay ten people enough to fuck over the hundred people next to them. :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 12:09 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


MoonOrb: "It seems like a significant part of this problem is that there are just so many damn minimum wage jobs these days (I mean, of the jobs that there are, a greater and greater proportion of them are minimum wage or very close to it).

Going back to the same Characteristics of Minimum Wage Earners report as above, that doesn't appear to be the case. The general dramatic trend is downward, and at least part of the recent bump since 2009 was recessionary. There's an argument that minimum wage hasn't kept up with inflation, but that may not solve the challenge; the theory goes that raising minimum wages leads to higher rents, with some smallish studies supporting that finding, and I'm assuming some against it as well.

The real question should be how we raise wages without raising rents. The answer seems simple to me: approve high density construction in places with high rents. You get the relatively low skilled construction jobs while increasing the rental supply. Or we could simply allow the price of housing to fall, further injuring the middle class who are dramatically overinvested in housing, thanks to government policies they asked for.
posted by pwnguin at 12:41 AM on May 31, 2012


The traditional amendment to the social contract is Hired Men With Guns. When everyone is poor and labor is cheap, then it doesn't cost very much to pay ten people enough to fuck over the hundred people next to them. :-/

All it takes is one maniac to get slightly too close to you.

Would you really want to spend the rest of your life having to worry about your security?
posted by Talez at 2:03 AM on May 31, 2012


Additionally, putting a floor on the wages of low-skill, routine jobs is difficult when the job has to compete with automation.

Automation and offshore workers. How much does a Chinese factory worker earn?


How's a Chinese factory worker going to scan your groceries in Chicago? Or drive you round in a bus or taxi in New York? Or clean offices in Dallas? How is automation going to look after your kids, clean your hotel rooms, or watch the factory machines to clear them when they jam? Look at the most automated factory you can find - its shop floor is not devoid of people.


A significant percentage of people working for minimum wage are not supporting themselves because they're teenagers living with their parents.

This is one hell of an assumption. At best, you can demonstrate that roughly a fifth are teenagers. Great. I recall when I was a teenager of working age, I did not live with my parents. For others, they not only didn't live with their parents, but were parents. With kids of their own to support. Even if you're not, why is being a teenager some sort of crime? Why should people be punished for having the temerity to not have turned 20 yet? Or 25? Or whatever arbitrary age limit you want to set? If you're 18, and working full time, you deserve to be paid exactly as much as someone who's 65 and working full-time, if you're doing the same job. Teenagers don't have fewer human needs than 20-somethings, or 30-somethings. You need the same food, if you fall and break a bone (better average health for a young person, arguably - though only on average, and there are lots of malnourished young people whose health is not fantastic - but more likely to be physically active in a way that might break a bone), you need the same medical care. If you want a roof over your head, you need to pay the same rent.

It's great that your parents were presumably both lovely and well-off enough to be both willing and able to support or help you through your teenage years. Not everyone has that luxury, and it's odious to assume it.
posted by Dysk at 3:34 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


"this rabble you're talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?"
posted by headnsouth at 3:34 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


aerotive : This is true for the big, expensive coastal cities but it's not true in the much of the middle of the country.

This. I would say it doesn't even hold true in the secondary, not-quite coastal cities.

That chart shows 81 hours for Maine - I can say from personal experience (which, for a change, actually has some relevance to the discussion) that outside Portland or right on the ocean, you'd have to rent a frickin' McMansion to pay anywhere near $1160 a month.

For some hard numbers, a random rental listing website lists the average (average, not "one room rat-infested efficiency") in Bangor, ME as $765/mo... Which sounded high to me, until I realized that includes "tourist" rentals on a weekly basis at 5x the normal price.

Offhand, I'd give this infographic about the same level of credit as one that put me smack dab in the middle of a "food desert", despite my having a choice of half a dozen supermarkets, a Walmart, a Target, and three regularly scheduled farmers' farkets within a half hour of home.
posted by pla at 3:54 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Poverty is a problem everywhere, the scandal is that a country as rich as the USA can fail so singularly in addressing it.

This is because nowhere else in the developed world does there exist a citizenry who sees poverty as a serious moral failing requiring severe punishment. The Vindictive States of America.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:28 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


pla, I notice that even with your concern for completely a irrelevant tangent about food deserts, you don't seem to have addressed the parameters of the question at hand, one of which is "two-bedroom apartment." Is the "average place" for $765 a two-bedroom apartment? And seasonal tourist rentals in Bangor? I can't imagine going to Maine for a season and choosing to stay in Bangor.

According to this, the Maine minimum wage is $7.50 an hour. At 40 hours a week, that equals $1300 a month. According to this, a person with that as a gross income should not be paying more than $390 for rent.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:35 AM on May 31, 2012


Why has no one pointed out how badly Hawaii has been abused on that infographic? I mean, it's always shoehorned into US Maps, but placing it on its side is a bit cruel and unusual...
posted by grajohnt at 4:38 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


So how many minimum wage jobs are out there that actually schedule you for 40 hours a week?

This is an important issue underlying the topic. Most minimum wage work is in the food and service industries. The standard procedure today is to schedule employees to work under 40 hours/week, and absolutely no overtime. To make matters worse, employees are usually scheduled in no more than 4-hour blocks throughout the week.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:46 AM on May 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Frankly, if the minimum adult wage of the area you live in doesn't beat the relative poverty line of the area you live in, who do you expect is going to provide all those services we all depend on every day which are paid at minimum wage? Is that the kind of society you want to live in? Then concerns that raising the minimum wage will cause 'inflation' and 'job losses' are moot, if they weren't already steaming piles of conservative woo.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:56 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pla, food deserts don't magically disappear because you have a car that can get you around. Owning a car is expensive. If someone has to commute for half an hour to get to somewhere with fresh vegetables, they're much more likely to go to the general store at the end of the street and just pick up Mac 'n Cheese. Cheap, fattening, and American!
posted by Phire at 5:26 AM on May 31, 2012


@Phire / Pla

The New York Times:
It has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But two new studies have found something unexpected. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.
/derail
posted by BobbyVan at 5:35 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


You need to play with the rest of us, Mr. Billionaire, because there's nothing in the social contract that keeps us from eating you.
Remind me not to cross twoleftfeet...

Seriously, though, billionaires don't typically earn the bulk of their income in the form of a wage. The super-rich make their money from capital gains. Income tax is a red herring. If we want to close the gap between rich and poor, we need to increase capital gains taxes and estate taxes. It's one thing for Mr. Billionaire who started a successful company to drive a fancy car and wear a top hat and monocle, quite another for his son who never did a useful thing in his life.
posted by deathpanels at 5:46 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Kirth Gerson : I notice that even with your concern for completely a irrelevant tangent about food deserts

I mentioned that because we had a similar infographic on the blue this time last year, which tried to tell me I have no convenient access to food. As a side not, the linked page in that article appears to have much better data now, and no longer shows me living in a desert - Though it does still show one slightly West of me that, ironically enough, contains both a WallyWorld and the home of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.


I can't imagine going to Maine for a season and choosing to stay in Bangor.

Look at a map of Maine. Point to the center. Where did you point?


According to this, a person with that as a gross income should not be paying more than $390 for rent.

Now that, I can't argue with. $390 a month? Seriously?

Wow.



Hey... Waitasec... Why does a single-earner household need a two-bedroom apartment?
posted by pla at 5:54 AM on May 31, 2012


Because a lot of single-earner households have more than one person, and possibly children, in them? Did you just not read the rest of the thread?

And let's say that a single-earner household is just one person. There are many jobs that need doing in expensive cities (SF, Boston, DC, NYC, etc.), and those jobs pay minimum wage. Average one-bedroom in SF is still going to be more than they can afford.
posted by rtha at 6:03 AM on May 31, 2012


Hmm. From BobbyVan's link:
Within a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, “you can get basically any type of food,”
I hope they were measuring for shorter distances than a couple of miles when deciding whether people live in a food desert. If you don't have a car, a couple of miles is a long-ass way to go for groceries. When I walk the five or ten minutes back from the shops with a full load of groceries, my arms are aching and my forehead's sweating by the time I get home.
posted by pracowity at 6:11 AM on May 31, 2012


Hey... Waitasec... Why does a single-earner household need a two-bedroom apartment?

You're RIGHT! You want a bedroom, you better be working! You hear that, kids? One bedroom per wage-earner!
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:18 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mentioned that because...

etc. amounting to your wanting to introduce something irrelevant, because you thought it was somehow similar to what's being discussed here.

Look at a map of Maine. Point to the center. Where did you point?

I pointed to a place called Monson. It's about 60 miles from Bangor. Since the majority of tourists would almost certainly be headed for the mountains or the coast, none of which are near Bangor, it's a mystery why they would choose to stay in an urban center instead of someplace close to the things they came for.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:21 AM on May 31, 2012


Just as a comparison point, in Australia the minimum wage is $15.51 per hour or $589.30 per week, or about $30k a year. Thirty percent of that, $200 a week, should readily find you a three bedroom house in a regional centre

Shenanigans! It's common knowledge that there are no jobs in regional centres (places like Perth, Adelaide, Hobart or Humpty Doo). This is why the rent is so low - prices are geared by market forces to 30% of welfare payments.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:26 AM on May 31, 2012


Because a lot of single-earner households have more than one person, and possibly children, in them? Did you just not read the rest of the thread?

I'm wondering how hypothetical these single-earner households are. The question for me is: how many single-earner households, with children, are headed by a person who works 40 hours/week on minimum wage?

This study from the Employment Policies Institute [.pdf] seems to address that question:
In the critical subgroup of families with children present, only 1 in 20 families derived over 70 percent of household income from an ABMW (At or Below Minimum Wage) job. In more than 3 out of 4 such families, earnings from the ABMW job accounted for less than one fifth of total family income. These observations suggest that concern about the ability of minimum wage employment to provide income support for families is exaggerated. Few adult minimum wage workers have families to support. And those adult minimum wage workers who do have families get substantial income from spousal employment.
This is also interesting. According to this report [2 page summary pdf]:
A majority of poor individuals between ages 16 and 64 do not work. For instance, about 54 percent of less-educated individuals who report missing a rent or a mortgage payment do not work; thus, raising the minimum wage would not benefit them.

Even among those who do work, the minimum wage appears to be poorly targeted. Nearly 87 percent of the wage earners who benefited from the 40 percent increase in the federal minimum wage between 2007 and 2009 were not poor—56 percent lived in households with an income more than two times the poverty threshold, and one-third lived in households with an income more than three times the poverty threshold.

[Full study - pdf - here]
posted by BobbyVan at 6:27 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is one of the reasons that government should heavily subsidize mass transit: it allows people to live far from city centers where rent is low and nevertheless provide services in big cities at good rates. In other words, mass transit helps to reduce wage inflation

esprit de l'escalier - I do absolutely believe mass transit should be heavily subsidised and not run as a for-profit business, however wouldn't this increase the perceived value of property further out?
posted by lith at 6:32 AM on May 31, 2012


Fascinating
The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman, who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:34 AM on May 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fair enough, Kirth. I'm open to competing statistics that demonstrate the extent of the dependence of single-earner households w/ children on minimum wage jobs.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:37 AM on May 31, 2012


I'm a lefty who doesn't care so much about the minimum wage per se. Employees get screwed even when they are paid substantially more than the minimum wage, and employers are quite willing to hire people to work for below minimum wage, viz. so-called illegal immigrants.

Raising the floor won't address the myriad other structural problems. Whether you earn $7.25/hr or $15.25/hr, you are still at serious risk of bankruptcy or a more generalized inability to provide basic security for your family's future.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:41 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


While some of you are looking for statistics from a less-corporate source, here is what the EPI economists claim (in a study from August 2007, .pdf):
"In fact, poor single mothers comprise less than 5 percent of all minimum wage workers, and almost 55 percent already earn wage rates greater than $7.25 per hour, the new higher federal minimum wage rate."
posted by BobbyVan at 6:46 AM on May 31, 2012


Saying that many poor people do not actually have or only have minimum-wage jobs ignores the part where in many population centers, one would need a wage of $13+ in order to afford an apartment. In my home city, it's nearly $30 an hour; where I live now, it's closer to $16, which is twice as much as federal minimum wage. Sure, you can get by with a crowded house in a less-accessible location, or by paying a substantial portion of your income on transportation or a car; people often do make do, even if it's hard, or even if they scrimp on food or health care. Saying that 55% of poor single mothers already make wages greater than $7.25 does not somehow mean that making $8 an hour for 40 hours every week with no time off at all repudiates the problems highlighted by this infographic.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:54 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea that there is a largely fixed amount of production and if we automate then there will be no jobs left for people, isn't really true, and it's been consistently not true for a century now. What happens is that the economy grows, and the jobs it demands change (which is always rough for many, but isn't the same as fewer jobs). The jobless recovery in the USA today is not the product of automation.

The claim about automation isn't true. Just look at the basics. Output per worker has skyrocketed, but pay has not, and the jobs are gone. So as a corporation, why would I hire people I don't need when I can continue making money in the short term with automation improvements? Less health insurance (and fewer insurance agents), less turnover (and fewer HR staff), less management (and fewer personal assistants) all lead to more profit.

The same thing is about to happen to the service industry that supposedly replaced manufacturing. How many people bank online? How many people worked jobs related to classified ads in newspapers across the country that have been replaced by thirty people now working at Craigslist? How many customer service jobs are being lost to improvements in voice capable AI?

And now the downward movement in the cost of information will make things even worse. The amount of entertainment I can consume is constrained by the free time I have. However, the amount of people it takes to create entertainment has dropped considerably just in the last 10 years.

I don't think there's a serious case to be made that the future of our economy is a bunch of people making applications for computing devices, or finding jobs in niche markets. For the first time in world history I can make something useful and give it to billions of people at virtually zero cost to me, and virtually no cost to the consumer. Robotics advances will gradually extend this reality to meatspace, and the number of displaced workers will continue to rise.

If the world wasn't finite, you would be right: we could grow our way out of the problem with more and different products. However, there is no way to grow our way out of worker displacement in a finite world that is already experiencing water and food shortages, and will soon run into the physical limits of our planet's ability to sustain an environment we can survive in. The owners and managers who are lucky enough to make the cut will continue to pay higher and higher prices for basic commodities, and everyone else will suffer and die.

And no, that's not a grim projection. Tens of thousands of children will die today because they lack access to basic needs — often in countries that export food at a profit — simply because their parents aren't owners or managers. That style ofeconomy is slowly creeping into the United States. And it's not going to get better if everyone continues to pretend that 20th Century economic ideas matter more than 21st Century reality.
posted by deanklear at 6:55 AM on May 31, 2012 [13 favorites]


Saying that 55% of poor single mothers already make wages greater than $7.25 does not somehow mean that making $8 an hour for 40 hours every week with no time off at all repudiates the problems highlighted by this infographic.

If the infographic exists merely to highlight broader problems in a non-explicit way, then it's a tendentious and misleading exercise. I'd argue that it's more of a bumper sticker than a serious entry into the discussion. If it really means that making $8 / hour is hard, and that poor people have a tougher go of it, it should say so.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:00 AM on May 31, 2012


As some people have pointed out, the problem here is what is the minimum wage supposed to represent? Is it supposed to represent a floor for the price of labor? Or is it supposed to represent the minimum amount required to support oneself? Or is it supposed to be the minimum amount required for a person to be able to support a family? How big is the family? How do we define "support"? Bare minimum, or average, or median? What about benefits? A minimum wage job with health insurance is worth WAY more than one without, even though they are nominally the same.

The problem with saying that one should be able to support a family on minimum wage is that it effectively over-pays the single person or the after school worker. I'm not a HUGE believer in the "a high minimum wage causes inflation/destroys jobs" meme, but there is some truth to it. It can't have no effect, so there must be some effect.

Finally, a lot of this question is corrected for with EITC, food stamps and other social safety nets. Someone working 40 hours a week @ minimum wage makes $15k a year. Supposing they have a spouse and 2 children, that is increased by ~$5000 a year via EITC, and some googling suggests that they would get an average of about $500 a month (another $6000 a year) in food stamps. Not a glamorous lifestyle at all, but that effectively doubles the minimum wage for such an earner.
posted by gjc at 7:04 AM on May 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


However, the amount of people it takes to create entertainment has dropped considerably just in the last 10 years.

Depends on what you mean by entertainment.

Music is certainly easier to record and distribute, although I don't know how much easier or more difficult it is to turn a profit on what you do.

Ditto for novels, where electronic distribution certainly broadens your audience, but I'm not sure how much that changes the number of people required to make a profitable book. Yes, I know that there are success stories with independent authors, but what's the actual trend?

I do know that American independent movies are much more difficult to fund and distribute nowadays than they had been in the past, especially for movies with budgets above mumblecore levels. Shaving a few thousand off of your budget because you're shooting digital means nothing if you can't get the 3 million it takes to actually make your movie.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:06 AM on May 31, 2012


But I'd argue that the middle class has been shrinking and the minimum wage class growing, which all of the sudden makes this the kind of problem that we can't reasonably solve with those solutions. But will raising the minimum wage solve the problem of the receding middle class? It's hard to say that it would. So while I can heartily agree this is problematic, I'm more enthusiastic about proposals that contemplate restoring the middle class, and less enthusiastic about proposals that keep the minimum wage class the minimum wage class, but just make sure the minimum wage is a little bit higher.

That depends entirely on how you define middle class. The classical definition was basically the "working rich". The people who didn't have upper class dynastic wealth required to just live off of interest/investments, but who could approach that lifestyle through their profession.

I'm not sure what it is defined as now, nor what it should be.
posted by gjc at 7:13 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Long-term, having to sleep in the same room as your parent(s), given our current social norms, keeps both you and your parents from living human lives. It is an expression of contempt (or sheer indifference, which is a sharper form of the same thing) from the upper classes, who, if they pleased, could find and fund political candidates committed to allowing even us, the poor, and even the poor in cities, to have a measure of privacy. This is, though, not a priority for the extremely wealthy people who create candidates for office through funding them.

Well - maybe your argument is that we don't have the resources here to provide decent housing. But that's laughable, since poorer countries than us do it much, much better.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:21 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the US, someone in the middle class is a vague figure with a house and a car and a stable job: someone who is better than a poor person, who is more educated than a lower middle class person, and who is more real than a rich person, a rich person being someone with infinite money and does not need a job. This lets people cordon off poverty from themselves, as they refuse to see that they might actually share many of the same financial insecurities, money woes, and even the same exact work ethic, just as it also cordons off the rich from themselves, as the middle class does not see itself as being nepotistic, aristocratic, or lazy. You can have doc reviewers earning $20/hr, burdened by student debt, without a house of their own, but who do not see themselves as being lower middle class, just as you can have multimillionaire third-generation scions who do not perceive of themselves as being wealthy, simply because they have their own debts and cannot maintain their current lifestyle, let alone social standing, without keeping their job.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:22 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


This smells funny. I've never paid more than $600/mo for a 2-bedroom. In Chicago I guess I was lucky, but in Tucson that's a pretty common price. To base an infographic on national averages and then claim that nowhere in America can you afford such an apartment on minimum wage is pretty disingenuous.

Tucson also has $2 pints and an awesome music scene. Cost of living is low; quality of life is high.
posted by unmake at 7:30 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see this same infographic, using median rents instead of average rents. In Manhattan, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,817. I'm sure the median rent for a 2BR is significantly lower.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:38 AM on May 31, 2012


In general, the higher the minimum wage is, the more people won't have jobs.

Not only is that a lazy statement, it's an utterly unsupported one.

I will freely say that I don't know what happens when the minimum wage is raised. Just on my understanding of economies, I would hypothesize that wages are only one of many factors on employment rates. In the early 17th century, the Dutch republic had higher wages than most of its neighbouring countries, but had high enough employment (at home and overseas in the Dutch East Indies Company) that it consistently attracted economic immigration.

Further - I don't see a match between the historic trend for minimum wage in the US and periods of high unemployment. (rather, a low spot of unemployment in the late '60s, matching a high peak on the real value of the minimum wage...)

I would propose a new Metafilter guideline: when talking about things that can be supported with evidence, how about we think about looking at the evidence?
posted by jb at 7:44 AM on May 31, 2012


This smells funny. I've never paid more than $600/mo for a 2-bedroom. In Chicago I guess I was lucky, but in Tucson that's a pretty common price. To base an infographic on national averages and then claim that nowhere in America can you afford such an apartment on minimum wage is pretty disingenuous.

You will pay about $1000/month for any 1-Bedroom within 1/2 hour by public transit of Bloor/Yonge (centre of Toronto). And that includes very small 1-beds in old buildings and basement apartments.

2 Bedrooms start at $1000 even within 1hour of downtown.

(This is CND, but then CND is now about the same as USD).
posted by jb at 7:56 AM on May 31, 2012


In the early 17th century, the Dutch republic had higher wages than most of its neighbouring countries, but had high enough employment (at home and overseas in the Dutch East Indies Company) that it consistently attracted economic immigration

[...] I would propose a new Metafilter guideline: when talking about things that can be supported with evidence, how about we think about looking at the evidence?


In 16XX, neither Denmark nor Luxembourg nor Germany nor Belgium had colonies.

No surprise, then, that the country with the naval capacity to reach resources far overseas would be a lucrative centre of commerce.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:03 AM on May 31, 2012


You will pay about $1000/month for any 1-Bedroom within 1/2 hour by public transit of Bloor/Yonge (centre of Toronto). And that includes very small 1-beds in old buildings and basement apartments.

Found: 525 Displaying: 1 - 100
posted by BobbyVan at 8:04 AM on May 31, 2012


In 16XX, neither Denmark nor Luxembourg nor Germany nor Belgium had colonies.

No surprise, then, that the country with the naval capacity to reach resources far overseas would be a lucrative centre of commerce.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:03 AM on May 31 [+] [!]


Exactly my point - there are more factors involved. Though France and England (it wasn't the UK yet) had overseas colonies, but not the high wages. The Netherlands was also a centre for manufacturing (which is where the female immigrants worked).

Looking at the more recent history of the US, it seems that unemployment rates don't track with minimum wage levels, but with other economic trends (oil crisis, early 1980s recession, etc).

Found: 525 Displaying: 1 - 100
posted by BobbyVan at 11:04 AM on May 31 [+] [!]


Sorry - I should have specified: "Fit for human habitation". I have seen what is available in the old city of Toronto for between $600-800 - mold, apartments with no kitchen, unfinished basements. And I've still seen tiny basements renting for $900-1000. If anyone can find something nice under $1000, power to them.
posted by jb at 8:15 AM on May 31, 2012


The reason I moved where I did is because people can survive on minimum wage here. It's $7.40 per hour. My mortgage is $177/mo for a three bedroom house. That doesn't include taxes, insurance, utilities, or upkeep. The total cost living under this old roof on a small lot runs me about $500/mo- which is still high, if you are only earning $7.40 per hour, but my house is big enough that getting a roommate would not be a hardship. Or even two. One person per bedroom, let's call it $600/mo for extra utilities, works out to $200/mo, or about 17% of a gross, 160 hour per month, minimum wage income. Doesn't exactly fit the parameters of the map in the FPP, but it's pretty easy to live cheap here. I can think of half a dozen places that start out at minimum wage and are within walking distance of my house. But I didn't toss a dart at a map. I researched and crunched numbers for a couple years before I moved here. I live in a place that's unusual. Before this, I lived in Ann Arbor, a place that is ridiculously overpriced, even for a college town. Even moving to neighboring Ypsi was a crapshoot- this was in the run up to the mortgage crisis and rental properties were changing hands with lightning speed. My rent nearly tripled in four years. I finally left when my half of the rent on a crummy, two bedroom, basement apartment got north of $800/mo. The deck is stacked against renters, and it sucks. And not everyone can do what I did, for emotional and pragmatic reasons. Moving 500 miles away from everybody you know is silly if you have children, because childcare can eat you alive. I'm not an economist, so I don't know what the answer is, but I don't think raising the minimum wage is a bad place to start.
posted by Athene at 8:24 AM on May 31, 2012


Mortgage rates aren't comparable to rental rates. In many places, it's much, much cheaper on a monthly basis to pay a mortgage than to pay rent -- where I live, rents are about three or four times what you'd pay on a mortgage on the same property. For those of us whose lives and incomes aren't stable enough to buy property (say, those earning at or near minimum wage), it's a terrible situation. And no, the difference is not explained simply by whether we pay property taxes directly -- landlords factor that cost into their rent; it's not like it doesn't get paid.
posted by asperity at 8:55 AM on May 31, 2012


Dysk: "If you're 18, and working full time, you deserve to be paid exactly as much as someone who's 65 and working full-time, if you're doing the same job."

Every union I've worked with thinks otherwise. Perhaps you and them should figure out why minimum wages are good and seniority pay is better.
posted by pwnguin at 8:59 AM on May 31, 2012


Yeah. 40 hours a week shouldn't be enough for you, your lazy spouse, and your useless kids to subsist on. After all, poor people are lazy or stupid, well, probably both; and you can just forget about wanting two whole bedrooms. Healthcare's another luxury that should only be for the rich too. And while we're at it, stop sending your kids to school, send them to work instead. Then you could afford to live in the two bedroom apartment you've always wanted. Hey guys, I've figured out a solution!

America: Don't give us your poor or your huddled masses yearning to be free.
posted by fragmede at 9:40 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah. 40 hours a week shouldn't be enough for you, your lazy spouse, and your useless kids to subsist on. After all, poor people are lazy or stupid, well, probably both; and you can just forget about wanting two whole bedrooms. Healthcare's another luxury that should only be for the rich too. And while we're at it, stop sending your kids to school, send them to work instead. Then you could afford to live in the two bedroom apartment you've always wanted. Hey guys, I've figured out a solution!

No, I think it is just that a minimum shouldn't be confused with some other situation that is not a minimum.
posted by gjc at 10:03 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm back in the US for a week after a year in Canada; I've begun referring to the homeland almost exclusively as Ameristan.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:31 AM on May 31, 2012


I'm wondering how hypothetical these single-earner households are. The question for me is: how many single-earner households, with children, are headed by a person who works 40 hours/week on minimum wage?

This is not understanding the infographic. The inforgraphic shows that this arrangement is unsustainable, therefore you won't find many people in this situation, because they can't survive it.
Instead, you'll find families where the single earner juggles three jobs to work 80 hours a week, you'll find families where the single earner is shacked up with an abusive boy/girl friend because they can't afford to leave them, you'll find minimum wage families crammed into a bedroom in their grandparent's house, you'll find families where the kids are left to fend for themselves because everyone who should be looking after them is working.

What you won't find, is single-earner households, with children, are headed by a person who works 40 hours/week on minimum wage. I hear there is an infographic around here somewhere that explains why that is :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:08 AM on May 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


Instead, you'll find families where the single earner juggles three jobs to work 80 hours a week, you'll find families where the single earner is shacked up with an abusive boy/girl friend because they can't afford to leave them, you'll find minimum wage families crammed into a bedroom in their grandparent's house, you'll find families where the kids are left to fend for themselves because everyone who should be looking after them is working.

So we're just supposed to infer these horror stories from a misleading infographic (average rents instead of median rents; no accounting for benefits like the EITC and food stamps)?

Overall, this is a poor, tendentious use of statistics.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:24 AM on May 31, 2012


You're supposed to infer that there is a problem.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:43 AM on May 31, 2012


Yeah, but the infographic wants us to "infer" that a minimum wage earner should be able to afford an "average" apartment. Why must someone on minimum-wage be entitled to an "average" apartment - not to mention a two-bedroom "average" apartment? Why not a below-average apartment? Is it your contention that living in a below-average apartment is some kind of injustice?
posted by BobbyVan at 11:47 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


You are suggesting the price difference between a below average apartment and an average one is bigger than the gap? Yes, the infographic could be better in that it could have disabused this misconception.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:53 AM on May 31, 2012


No, I'm suggesting that the deck is stacked to make a political point. The infographic also assumes that spending more than 30% of one's income on housing => unaffordable.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:02 PM on May 31, 2012


(In fact, in the US cities I've apartment hunted in, the rent on even restricted-income subsidized welfare apartments has been so close in price to the regular average housing that it's easy to mistake one for the other going by price and description... until you actually visit.)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:03 PM on May 31, 2012


As was addressed above, once your income falls below a point, more than 30% can easily become unaffordable. If you make decent money, you can happily blow 60% on rent and still have a party left over, because 40% of a larger number can be many times more than 70% of a smaller number.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:06 PM on May 31, 2012


The infographic also assumes that spending more than 30% of one's income on housing => unaffordable."

Affordable housing; the federal guideline places affordable housing at 30 percent of gross income.

So while some of your complaints about the make-up of minimum wage earners have merit, this particular complaint is baseless.
posted by klangklangston at 12:12 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should also correct my comment above about "average" and "median" as they relate to this study. In fact, the study and the accompanying infographic refers to "Fair Market Rent" (FMR) as defined by the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. FMR is typically set at the 40th or 50th percentile of rents in a given locality, "i.e., the dollar amount which allows voucher-holders access to 40 percent [or 50 percent] of standard quality rental units."

So what this study is arguing is that a person working a full-time minimum wage job can only afford something less than 40-50% of the two-bedroom apartments in their given area... how much less is not defined... but we can infer to our heart's content.

And on preview, klangklang, the 30% figure seems arbitrary, and doesn't seem to account for other government benefits for the poor like the EITC, food stamps and Medicaid. That said, I'll accept the 30% figure since it's part of the official definition of "affordable housing."
posted by BobbyVan at 12:17 PM on May 31, 2012


i find it rather appalling that the assumption could be that, with minimum wage, getting government benefits (that suck) is supposed to make up for companies paying that absolute minimum. it strikes me as yet one more subsidy for industries/corporations.
posted by circle_b at 1:04 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


And on preview, klangklang, the 30% figure seems arbitrary, and doesn't seem to account for other government benefits for the poor like the EITC, food stamps and Medicaid. That said, I'll accept the 30% figure since it's part of the official definition of "affordable housing."

Check out this .pdf for a nice, brief description of how and why 30% is considered affordable.

Medicaid only targets certain needy families, people with long-term, qualifying disabilities, children, pregnant women, etc. The EITC is a real help, but not to anyone who is under 25. Food stamps are great, if you can enroll (much harder than is really should be). TANF is great, but has really strict eligibility requirements (single mothers only), and has a lifetime limit.

You might want to look at the Census' supplemental poverty level. It takes into account just about everything everyone was complaining about missing from the official poverty line statistics. It includes all state and federal aid programs for the poor and adds them to earnings. And it subtracts out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation and childcare costs, geographic variations to the cost of living, and more. The census has lots of interesting information on poverty, and how much of it there really is. They also have good statistics on how many people spending more than 30% or 50% of their income on housing in their American Community Survey.

None of this means that raising the minimum wage will significantly help with this problem, or that it's the best way to help with this problem. Though a lot of positions that offer just above the minimum wage would have to increase their wages as well, so this assistance isn't just limited to them. But I think the whole minimum wage this is just a derail. The problem is that it is expensive to keep living, and we provide no way for people to live well (read: with access to health care, sufficient food, affordable housing, a way to get to work inexpensively, etc.) without working multiple jobs and still just barely getting by. That is unconscionable and needs to be addressed, this infographic is just another reminder of it, not a specific policy recommendation.
posted by Garm at 1:09 PM on May 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


The standard-- that households should be paying no more than 30% of their gross income in housing costs (and, again, this is not just rent/mortgage, it's also including basic utilities like water/sewer, gas/electric, garbage service, etc) is actually a standard for households at all income levels, not just low-income households.

The theory is that if a household is not paying too much for housing, they'll have enough money left to pay for food and medical bills and clothes and all the rest of it. Those 'other government benefits' like food stamps and Medicaid are not luxury extras, they're grudging acknowledgements of the fact that, when your income is low enough, even if you do happen to be paying affordable housing costs, you still can't survive without help. And those benefits are often difficult to secure and collect regularly for a person with even a few barriers-- like, for example, a learning difficulty that makes it hard to read.
posted by Kpele at 1:10 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


>Medicaid only targets certain needy families, people with long-term, qualifying disabilities, children, pregnant women, etc.

The 2 bedroom apartment, I'm inferring, suggests a family with children.

>The EITC is a real help, but not to anyone who is under 25.

The EITC is available to individuals younger than 25 if they have children.

>Food stamps are great, if you can enroll (much harder than is really should be).

More than 45 million Americans managed to do it. Can't be too hard.

>TANF is great, but has really strict eligibility requirements (single mothers only), and has a lifetime limit.

I'm not really talking about welfare here...
posted by BobbyVan at 1:35 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


circle_b wrote: getting government benefits (that suck) is supposed to make up for companies paying that absolute minimum. it strikes me as yet one more subsidy for industries/corporations.

I made the mistake of reading David Cay Johnston's books. I've begun to sound like a Republican with my constant complaining about feeding from the government teat. On the bright side, I now know that we do in fact give various companies more money than we do poor people. Not only that, but there are several large, well known companies who would lose money every year were it not for the hundreds of millions in subsidies that take them from a mild loss to a good profit.

The hilarious thing is that the Tea Partyist jackholes I'm surrounded by don't actually care. Funny how it's such a travesty for a poor person to get assistance, but it's perfectly OK for a rich person to get assistance.
posted by wierdo at 1:51 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


"More than 45 million Americans managed to do it. Can't be too hard."

One of those times when I lost my job while I was in college (publication folded, basically), I qualified for food stamps, and thought about getting them. This was before 2008, so I can't speak to how the SNAP program has changed access, but no, it was not at all easy to get them. You had to apply in person at a regional center that happened to be about an hour and a half away by bus, and there were a limited number of applications accepted each day. The requirements for application were vague, and it required more than one trip (including missing class) to get the required paperwork. Without my having children, the benefits were meager and ultimately ended up being not worth the hassle to get and maintain, especially since there was a hard limit on eligibility in Michigan at the time.

So, you know, from someone who's actually tried, and who happens to know more than a few people who have been on food stamps, I hope you can see how you're coming across as glib, insulting and ignorantly dismissive.
posted by klangklangston at 2:00 PM on May 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'd imagine that it's a lot easier to get food stamps now. More than half the states in the US allow one to apply online. And per this report from Reason Magazine:
The Department of Agriculture’s Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) has been engaged in a lengthy campaign to boost the program’s enrollment rates. In 2000 just 16.9 million people were receiving food stamps, and only 50 percent of those who were eligible participated in the program. Then FNS and the state agencies that administer SNAP began streamlining application processes and ramping up their outreach efforts. By 2007, 66 percent of “eligibles” had been converted into participants, and preliminary data suggests that that percentage continued to increase in 2008 and 2009. SNAP, it turns out, is a rare and increasingly costly example of government efficiency.
I'm sorry, klangklangston, that you found the paperwork and bureaucracy cumbersome when you applied for food stamps more than four years ago, and that you (gasp) had to miss a class. If they were "worth the hassle" (i.e., you had kids to feed), I'm confident you would have managed.

I also think your name-calling is unnecessary.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:19 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why must someone on minimum-wage be entitled to an "average" apartment - not to mention a two-bedroom "average" apartment? Why not a below-average apartment? Is it your contention that living in a below-average apartment is some kind of injustice?

I'd imagine housing prices tend to follow a skewed distribution, with a much longer tail on the "luxury" end than on the "affordable" end. And in fact, a quick search of the first 100 Craigslist 2br prices for the Boston area seems to confirm this (histogram and quantile plot). I checked Scranton too, to see if this was unique to richer cities, but actually the trend was even more pronounced, though n was smaller because there were fewer listings. (Very very quick back-of-the-envelope analysis; caveat emptor, etc.)

By definition of course, 50% of the apartments are below median price, but the issue may be more that they're really not that far below. To illustrate that further, for Boston, the 50th percentile 2br rent is $2,200/mo, but at the 25th percentile the rent is still $1,637.50/mo, only about 25% less. Scranton is even worse: the 50th percentile is $650/mo, but the 25th percentile is still $600/mo, less than an 8% drop in price.

Also, this last bit doesn't really rise to the level of data in the plural sense, but even in Scranton, the lowest rent I found for a 2br ($480/mo) was unaffordable by the criteria used in the study, i.e., ($7.25 * 40 * 52) / 3, which comes to $419/mo. (I was able to find one 1br and one studio each below $419/mo, out of around 40 listings, but that's not really enough to give a reliable estimate of the frequency.)
posted by en forme de poire at 3:06 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


BobbyVan: At the risk of contributing to a slight derail, I can assure you that getting foodstamps is an experience that is not only demeaning, but really really difficult. There are an enormous amount of hoops to jump through, and it's generally hard and soul-crushing to do.

In fact, I had so much anxiety and depression surrounding my most recent re-certification meeting that I let them lapse. The only reason I did that was because I am reasonably confident that I can get enough food each month dumpster diving, thus avoiding the food stamp office altogether. I'm not broken up about it, because I don't have issues with dumpstered food, but I think it tells you something about the process all the same.

Also, I live in a really cheap city, but getting by on minimum wage here is only possible if you work over 40 a week, share a barely-livable place (or have an unlivable place on your own), get food assistance (stamps or soup kitchen meals), don't drive, don't use any heat or air at home, and absolutely never get sick or need a doctor (I've lost minimum wage jobs because I was too sick to work, but could not afford the doctor visit required to prove it).

It's not a fucking game. God forbid that some poor soul without the good fortune to have a well-paying (read: livable wage) job would be allowed a decent life.
posted by broadway bill at 5:34 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just an update on Australia. Fair Work Australia, the national body that determines the minimum wage, just granted an increase to apply from 1 July, by 2.9%, to $606pw, or $15.96 per hour.

Apparently there are 1.36M Australian workers on the minimum wage. Most of them should be able to afford to rent or even buy a two bedroom flat.
posted by wilful at 5:43 PM on May 31, 2012


@broadway bill: At the risk of appearing insensitive, this is taxpayer subsidized food that you'd be taking. It ought to be ever-so-slightly "demeaning" to be on the dole. I'll give you a bit of literary license when you argue that applying for food stamps is "soul-crushing." I'm sure it sucks to be poor, and I don't begrudge anyone their individual circumstances. I'm a conservative, but think that a government ought to provide a minimal level of food and health care to the truly poor.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:47 PM on May 31, 2012


Well, that does seem kinda insensitive - if you genuinely think that it should be somewhat demeaning to get government assistance, I don't really know how to respond to that.
I guess my first question, genuinely, is why? shaming people won't get them a raise, so it seems like an odd response.
poor people should always be demeaned? everyone working minimum wage who needs assistance, has kids, etc, will just be demeaned until ... ? there will always be individuals who are impoverished, some permanently, so it's interesting that they should spend the rest of their lives being ever-so-slightly humiliated.
we all use taxpayer subsidized roads, taxpayer subsidized water, taxpayer subsidized schools - should I feel demeaned that I had to go to public school as a child at taxpayer expense because my parents couldn't afford to buy my education at a private school?

well, once everyone gets pushed down into the lumpenproletariat, maybe we'll get that revolution after all.
posted by circle_b at 6:02 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


BobbyVan: I don't accept, at all, that it should be "somewhat" demeaning to need and ask for help. That's bullshit. If you are against food stamps, minimum wages, or whatever...fine. But don't make shame some part of your ideal system.

I hope to god I'm still alive if the tables ever turn on this shit, because some of these rich motherfuckers are looking tastier by the minute.
posted by broadway bill at 6:10 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Food stamps are inherently demeaning, they're a fucking awful way of managing a welfare system. Every single time you shop, you're made aware of how crap you are. Just an awful system.
posted by wilful at 6:12 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wilful: Generally, I agree with that. I will say, however, that the change from actual stamps--which were basically monopoly money that you could spend on food--to the EBT card that works like a debit card (and can be used in self-service grocery checkouts) has made the experience of shopping with them much, much better.

And, ya know, back to this idea that it should be "somewhat demeaning" to get food assistance. Why? Why should I be shamed? Because I didn't go to business school? Why should anyone be shamed because they are having a hard time? I'm having a hard fucking time here; I didn't make any particular "bad" decision that made me need assistance. Even if I did, is demeaning me likely to correct that? Or is the goal that I will be so ashamed that I will just stop using the services and, hey, problem solved? I don't get it, at all.
posted by broadway bill at 6:19 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Zoviet Amerika, the Wal-Mart where you work gives you a three-hour video about how evil unions are, and then hands you an application for food stamps.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:43 PM on May 31, 2012


/Gathers, from reading this thread, that being a tendentious apologist for status-quo/right-wing policy on the internets pays better than minimum wage. Googles for where to apply.
posted by hap_hazard at 6:44 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


[FYI folks, you can help prevent this thread turning into "one person argues with everyone" by not arguing with that person. Other folks, be mindful that you share this thread and the site with everyone and don't make it a referendum on your own opinions only please. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 PM on May 31, 2012


Being unemployed is demeaning enough in and of itself without piling on humiliation in some desiccated Calvinist fashion; the desire to institutionalise scorn reflects more on those who advocate it than their targets.
posted by holgate at 7:25 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I thought I was describing a normal human reaction to asking others for a handout. Being on food stamps is certainly not something to be proud of... for many people it's an unfortunate necessity, and I recognize that. Sorry if this is an emotional subject for people. I certainly don't intend to offend anyone.

No, I don't want to "institutionalize scorn" upon people who need food stamps. That would be cruel. But it seems a bit ungrateful to complain that the process of petitioning one's government for food is in some way "demeaning" or, to be a bit more hyperbolic, "soul crushing."

The fact that 45 million people are on food assistance is proof enough for me, to re-rail this discussion, that the process is easy enough for people to navigate, and not so demeaning that people allow their pride to get in the way of feeding themselves and their children.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:55 PM on May 31, 2012


That actually works in people's favour. The jobs don't compete with automation, their productivity-per-hour is increased by automation. (If they do compete, that should be fixed, by moving labor to where it is useful). When you make labor more expensive, it provides incentive to get more per hour (instead of more hours for next-to-nothing) which produces an economy both larger and more efficient, which easily supports higher wages.

The idea that there is a largely fixed amount of production and if we automate then there will be no jobs left for people, isn't really true, and it's been consistently not true for a century now. What happens is that the economy grows, and the jobs it demands change (which is always rough for many, but isn't the same as fewer jobs). The jobless recovery in the USA today is not the product of automation.


Right, the idea is that automation will eliminate low-skill jobs in one area, but make everyone wealthier overall which increases demand for a new set of jobs that hopefully require more skill.
posted by michaelh at 7:57 PM on May 31, 2012


I thought I was describing a normal human reaction to asking others for a handout.

Every single child in a public school is "asking others for a handout".

Hell, who is the foodstamp handout actually aimed at? The poor -- or the profiteers who aren't paying a decent wage to start with?
posted by jb at 8:16 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


At the risk of appearing insensitive, this is taxpayer subsidized food that you'd be taking. It ought to be ever-so-slightly "demeaning" to be on the dole.
Being on food stamps is certainly not something to be proud of

47% of the people of those 45 million people using the SNAP program are children. (source - biggish PDF) Why should children be ashamed for being hungry?
posted by gingerest at 8:17 PM on May 31, 2012


Not everyone on food stamps is some unemployed layabout. As a matter of fact, 69 percent of SNAP recipients are children, elderly, or disabled. Yes, there are those who think that it "ought" to be ever-so-slightly demeaning to be on "the dole", which in this case is not actually the dole at all, but actually SNAP, but in addition to redefining the term "dole" to mean any sort of assistance that has ever existed, the ethical position is well worth exploring.

After all, perhaps children, the elderly, and the disabled ought to feel ashamed for "asking" for the ability to afford food. After all, children should be older, should they not? As it stands, they merely waste our time. The elderly should be younger, should they not? Some of us have managed to stay young so far - why can't they?

And as for the disabled: it is clear that they must develop their own elaborate mecha suits. As a matter of fact, whenever I see a disabled person who requires assistance in order to afford nutritious food, I perform an act of charity. I make sure to shake the wretch's hand, temporarily stifling my urge to spray vomit like a fire hose while my eyes turn in opposite circles. Rather than emit the high-pitched wail that I hear internally whenever I meet someone who dares to be poor, I instead croak out a prepared statement on my duty to provide for their minimal food needs, while also handing them a stack of relevant manga concerning which mecha suits are the most (and least) awesome. As yet, no one has responded to my manga stacks, nor have they responded to my unprompted "you're welcomes," but at least I know that, from now on, it's all their fault.

As for that duty to provide for their minimal food needs: I am 100% sincere when I proclaim that I have this duty. After all, to provide anything more than minimal food needs would be inappropriate. Of course, I am under no obligation whatsoever to describe in any detail what "minimal" food needs actually are, as that would reveal sprawling fields of vagueness. Regardless of the lack of substance, however, I think we're all clear what minimal food requirements are, and that if I am ever pressed for details, I can simply say, "oh, you know, the minimum" and then mutter something about how you shouldn't be able to buy lobster tails with food stamps.

I have other duties as well. I must announce that children, the elderly, and the disabled are "asking" for a "hand-out", instead of merely accepting pre-existing government programs which have already been engineered to help them survive. It is my duty to proclaim that poor children are "asking" for a "hand-out", literally by dint of existing. This is different from how I grew up, after all. When I, as a child, took advantage of our military's protection, of our highway system, of our legal system, of all the aspects of the government's protection for which I hadn't paid a red cent, I was simply taking what was mine, by God. When I claim tax credits on my mortgage interest or college education, I am simply taking what's mine, by God. When I drive through a state for which I pay no taxes, and yet I still enjoy the benefits of its state-level services, I am simply taking what's mine, by God.

But, when "children" or "the elderly" or "the disabled" or "people who otherwise can't afford nutritious food" use government programs because they cannot entirely provide for themselves: they are obviously "asking" for "assistance." And that's why we must look down on them. It's just like that part in the Bible, where the guy's lying in the road, and then the Samaritan comes by and says that he'll only provide the minimum level of help, but really the road-guy ought to feel a little demeaned by all of this.

And isn't that what this is all about? Insisting that children, the elderly, and the disabled ought to feel a bit demeaned by receiving assistance, while also insisting that we don't want to institutionalize scorn, even though the former is, definitionally, an example of the latter?

By the way, don't even get me started on the positive macroeconomic effects of SNAP. $9.2 billion of economic activity for a $5 billion investment? And it was a Republican Department of Agriculture that came up with this crap? That's Keynesian pump-priming, my friends (and poors), and it's naughty to ever bring up the idea that that could ever work in any circumstance ever. That extra $4.2 billion is blood money as far as I'm concerned, which is why I shred about 40% of the money that I find, just on general principle. I then throw those shreds onto poor people, telling them that they could have simply earned that money, instead of tearfully grabbing at the tattered remains, if only they had been older, younger, perfectly abled, wearing a proper mecha suit, or not born into one of the worst economies of the modern era.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:31 PM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why aren't these employers being criticized for benefiting from these handouts, as well? Many of these jobs couldn't exist at the pay rates and in the abundance that they do in a first world nation without taxpayer subsidized housing, food stamps, public transit, healthcare, free lunch and after school programs for these folks' kids, supplemental SSI income/disability from the elderly people who often pool expenses with minimum wage workers and provide them with inexpensive/free child care, college grants, federal loans and state/community college options for working students - just try to pay your way through school with one of these jobs like people used to do in the 70s - it can take a decade. When pay rates don't rise with the cost of living, the government picks up the slack, so people who are not dependent minors (and therefore more responsible, experienced, professional and more likely to make a job with secondary school unfriendly, hermit fostering hours their first priority) are more likely to see work for these wages as something other than a pointless act of masochism. These businesses aren't naive or coy about it, and they *certainly* aren't ashamed. Warehousing, construction, meat processing, agriculture, ltc facilities and home health care agencies employ minimum wage workers in droves for manual labor that quickly takes its toll. They are not interested in shouldering the burden for their health care, and they cheerily shift it onto the state as they plow through the disposable rabble.
posted by Selena777 at 9:31 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I'm sorry, klangklangston, that you found the paperwork and bureaucracy cumbersome when you applied for food stamps more than four years ago, and that you (gasp) had to miss a class. If they were "worth the hassle" (i.e., you had kids to feed), I'm confident you would have managed.

I also think your name-calling is unnecessary.
"

I wasn't calling you names, I was saying that you were coming across as glib, dismissive and ignorant. Perhaps a little less swooning and a little more reading would cut down on that.

Look, it galls me that you're lecturing people about how they should feel ashamed when they're getting help from their fellow citizens. It reeks of self-important privilege and a tremendous lack of empathy. But it's also profoundly stupid from a public policy point of view, and I think illustrative of a larger stupidity that animates a lot of conservative thinking, the conflation of punishment with policy.

The reason why it's stupid is that if you design any public program, you want people to use the program. If you don't want certain people using the program, you delineate that in the eligibility requirements, e.g. that to receive Section 8 housing assistance you can't make over a certain amount. But what does shame do? It acts purely to discourage people from using a program who might have otherwise. Absolutely zero people are prevented from being poor by making it shitty to get food stamps. So why would you posit that as a good thing?

Well, I can come up with two likely reasons: You want to give yourself an unearned ego boost for not being one of the poors who have to rely on public services — ignoring the general mental bias to blame others for their failures while blaming circumstance for yours — and you want to punish the poor as some sort of deterrent.

It's the same spirit that animates a lot of the stupidity around abortion and contraception — there is literally no way to fashion a consistent argument that the preferences expressed by conservatives are effective at reducing abortion; it's trivial to construct an argument that those preferences are consistent with punishing women for having sex.

So, not only is the idea that people should feel ashamed for using public services ("Hey, fuck you bus-o, you should drive a private car!") incoherent with any public policy planning, it's stupid because it's wasteful — the actual effects of making people ashamed are that you get lower buy in, you get people who could be recovering their lives more quickly and returning to contributing to the rest of society, and you end up with more endemic public health problems that come from food instability. It leads to poor projection and allocation of resources — those public programs end up more wasteful because of this idiotic smugness — and ultimately just reinforces the perception among conservatives that the government functions poorly.

If you don't want people using public services, address that in the eligibility requirements. If you just want to play passive aggressive games with public policy, go jerk off on your roommate's Settlers of Catan.
posted by klangklangston at 11:35 PM on May 31, 2012 [14 favorites]


klangklangston: If your goal is to create a permanent underclass, by all means, please try to maximize the number of people on public assistance and discourage anyone -- particularly and especially working-age folks without young mouths to feed (as it seems you were when you looked into going on food stamps) -- from feeling the slightest bit of shame or discomfort for accepting charity from their fellow citizens.

I don't support "piling on" poor people (let alone children - good grief, do you people think I'm a monster?) who legitimately need help w/ food, health care or housing. They've got enough problems to deal with. But I would hope that for those who are mentally and physically capable, and smart enough to make a case for themselves on Metafilter -- that they would have enough dignity and self-respect to say to themselves: "This is only temporary. I need this help now and I'm grateful for it, but I'm going to try to get out of this hole, get back on my feet, and support myself. What I'm not going to do is complain about how many hoops I need to jump through to get my handout."

Again, back to the tangent: I'm not seeing a ton of evidence that the process for applying for food stamps is terribly cumbersome, and the program seems to be working fairly well.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:51 AM on June 1, 2012


Time to heed Jessamyn's advice. This person has made his feelings clear, and a bunch of us have replied. Let's let his part of the discussion die of neglect.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:05 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing about hoop-jumping is, as public policy, you want to keep it to a minimum. For instance, if you have a public health program that gives free or very low-cost vaccinations to kids, you don't want to make it unnecessarily difficult for eligible people to access that. You want them to tell you that, for instance, it's really hard to access the program if it takes three separate visits to an office to even establish eligibility and it's hard to get the kids to the clinic if the vaccinations are only available two hours a week or something. You do actually want people to bitch about stuff like this, because like here on mefi, people don't always know there's a problem unless someone says "Hey, there's a problem!" Some people will complain no matter what, but if you get a bunch of complaints all about the same kind of process and buy-in is lower than projected, you know there's a problem. Gratitude or the lack thereof isn't part of this, and shouldn't be. I'm pretty sure that ConAgra and the like don't go around tugging their forelocks in gratitude for the public largesse they are given, and I don't see why someone who needs food stamps should have to either.
posted by rtha at 6:34 AM on June 1, 2012


rtha: You'll get no brief from me on public vaccination programs.

The evidence for excessive "hoops" w/ regard to the SNAP program that's been presented in this thread is mostly hypothetical, and at best anecdotal. Some hoops, like those in place to prevent fraud or abuse, are absolutely legitimate.

I didn't come in here to argue that all public assistance programs contribute to moral decay (that would be an over broad and unfair generalization)... but if the argument is going to be that people who receive something of value -- paid for by other people -- shouldn't be just a bit grateful, that seems to be the logical conclusion.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:12 AM on June 1, 2012


Many or all of them are grateful. They just don't let you know. It doesn't have to be public gratitude.
posted by rtha at 7:27 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again, back to the tangent: I'm not seeing a ton of evidence that the process for applying for food stamps is terribly cumbersome, and the program seems to be working fairly well.

On a much less sarcastic note: in law school, I did a year of representing clients at fair hearings concerning their public benefits, mostly TANF and SNAP. People often had their benefits cut off without notice or process.

For example, one person had had her benefits cut off multiple times due to the fact that the state kept sending work assignments to a child of hers who had, many years ago, died shortly after birth. Since the dead person could not respond or attend work assignments, they kept thinking there was a delinquent in the family, and thanks to super awesome laws which harm the entire family for alleged violations by alleged household members, her entire family would become jeopardized due to the state's incompetence.

Dealing with the former grotesque issue completely dominated this person's life. You see, you can't just call up OTDA and tell them that they've made "that" mistake again. They don't resolve these issues over the phone. You can't just fax them a death certificate and a sternly worded letter. You have to physically show up to a variety of offices and defend your case to opposing city representatives, which is really awesome when you're also a disabled and, yes, working mother without a car, chauffeur, or teleportation device. It becomes especially awesome when the agencies don't do their homework on time, so even a decision in your favor, supposedly settling the issue once and for all, is routinely ignored. On top of that, the city would regularly send incoherent paperwork ("your case has been changed from a 1 to a 0," with no accompanying cite or explanation) or have important phone lines where the phone would literally just ring and ring, with no ability to leave a message. All of this chaos made it much more difficult for her to actually go to her part-time job, which also made paying her rent almost impossible.

If you had seen that person, you never would have guessed that she was disabled, and that she had much more going on in her life than you might initially assume. If you had seen her using her EBT card to buy food, it seems like there'd be some chance that you'd be thinking about whether or not she was on assistance because she "can't" do better for herself, or "won't."

The deeper lesson is that perhaps you should instead mind your own beeswax, and remember that you know nothing about her and people like her. People on assistance do not need to explain themselves to you. You don't need to judge them. There is no need to passive-aggressively insist that "able-bodied" people on food stamps ought to feel that this is only temporary. The vast majority of adults would rather have jobs and pay for their own damn food than have to put up food stamps and all the other programs. The sweeping majority of SNAP recipients literally cannot help their situation, and the minority of those who are technically able-bodied, etc. might have more complicated lives than you imagine. And of those who could do better for themselves, but aren't already doing so: there no doubt are lazy bums on food stamps, but there are also lazy bums in the working world, so who cares?

Besides, since SNAP actually generates economy activity, it's not as if it really affects you either way, at least not negatively. You'd be much better off decrying people who use student loans to buy beer, since the student loan debt bubble is actually a bad thing.

So, all of that might go into why you're getting sharp responses. The negativity towards SNAP recipients is unearned, unwarranted, uninformed, and unhelpful, and it's rendered further absurd by the fact the food stamp program actually stimulates economic growth. Maybe you should be less concerned about whether or not SNAP recipients in general seem sufficiently grateful to you.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:30 AM on June 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


I agree.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:31 AM on June 1, 2012


^ @rtha
posted by BobbyVan at 7:31 AM on June 1, 2012


If your goal is to create a permanent underclass, by all means, please try to maximize the number of people on public assistance and discourage anyone -- particularly and especially working-age folks without young mouths to feed (as it seems you were when you looked into going on food stamps) -- from feeling the slightest bit of shame or discomfort for accepting charity from their fellow citizens.

And what is your evidence that assistance creates a permanent underclass?

I lived on welfare for 12 years (ages 3 to 15), and lived in subsidized housing for some 18 years (ages 3 to 21). I now have a masters' degree and I'm working on a PhD, while being gainfully employed in healthcare research. Far from hurting my educational and economic opportunities, the very generous benefits (income, good housing) that my mother received were absolutely essential to my chances: I had a stable home (didn't move for 18 years) and a stable family situation. I didn't appreciate how poor we were, because we always had food and a good place to live and I wasn't stressed - so I could concentrate on school like a middle-class kid. Moreover, my mother had a chance to improve her education; she had no high school diploma when she first went on benefits, but could go back to school and gain skills and now works as a bookkeeper (and second in charge of her department).

12 years of benefits (sometimes only partial, as she worked her way off them) has turned into 15 years of tax paying from two different people at higher rates than either would have been able to ever pay without that support.

Benefits are an INVESTMENT in the future. You want them to be generous, because otherwise you are just under-investing. You wouldn't buy the cheapest equipment for a factory, why would you invest less in labour? Benefits, especially family benefits, should be stable and generous -- because stability and lack of stress are essential to children's development and educational attainment. The current US system, with all of its barriers and instability -- that is what is setting people up for a poor future. You can't study if you're worried about whether mom will have time to renew your food stamps or if you're forced to share a bedroom with several siblings and maybe even your parents.
posted by jb at 8:15 AM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, you really should make it possible for benefit-recipients - and Minimum Wage workers (back to topic) - to live in the same neighbourhoods as middle-class families, because economic segregation CAN contribute to people becoming part of a permanent underclass. How do you learn to write a resume if no one you know has a job? How do you network your way into a job, if no one you know has a position that would allow them to learn about other positions?
posted by jb at 8:20 AM on June 1, 2012


For example, one person had had her benefits cut off multiple times due to the fact that the state kept sending work assignments to a child of hers who had, many years ago, died shortly after birth. Since the dead person could not respond or attend work assignments, they kept thinking there was a delinquent in the family, and thanks to super awesome laws which harm the entire family for alleged violations by alleged household members, her entire family would become jeopardized due to the state's incompetence.

That's a shitty story. I'm sorry that this disabled person had to deal with an incompetent and unfeeling government bureaucracy. Good on you for helping her.

And let me clarify something - I don't think that everyone on public assistance should feel "demeaned." There are lots of people who, through no fault of their own, are incapable of supporting themselves, and they need our support, not a gratuitous swipe at their dignity. I should have been more clear on that when I was responding to a particular commenter.

It does seem like we agree that healthy, able people who are on public assistance should want to work and support themselves. When someone in that category hits a rough patch and complains about feeling “demeaned” when they applied for food stamps, I want to say that that’s a pretty normal response. It’s not supposed to feel good to receive a handout – if it did, our incentives would be out of place.

it's rendered further absurd by the fact the food stamp program actually stimulates economic growth

I’m deeply skeptical about this claim. I know the Keynesian models show a multiplier for food stamps, but I’m unconvinced.

And what is your evidence that assistance creates a permanent underclass?

I do know that Paul Krugman, before he became a committed partisan, believed that things like unemployment assistance could reduce the incentive for work:
"Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. . . . In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker's incentive to quickly find a new job."

Krugman also writes that "most economists agree that a sufficiently high minimum wage does lead to structural unemployment."
I'm going to heed Jessamyn's advice and bow out for now. This has become a take-on-all-comers affair...
posted by BobbyVan at 8:35 AM on June 1, 2012


" If your goal is to create a permanent underclass, by all means, please try to maximize the number of people on public assistance and discourage anyone -- particularly and especially working-age folks without young mouths to feed (as it seems you were when you looked into going on food stamps) -- from feeling the slightest bit of shame or discomfort for accepting charity from their fellow citizens."

What a perverse misreading. If there are people who you don't think should be getting public benefits, make that happen through the eligibility requirements. And since the vast, vast, vast majority of people who use public assistance programs are in temporary need, this specter of a permanent underclass is ridiculous on its face. It requires both a willful invention of facts unsupported by any evidence in this universe and an appeal to your personal counterproductive morality.

"I don't support "piling on" poor people (let alone children - good grief, do you people think I'm a monster?) who legitimately need help w/ food, health care or housing. They've got enough problems to deal with. But I would hope that for those who are mentally and physically capable, and smart enough to make a case for themselves on Metafilter -- that they would have enough dignity and self-respect to say to themselves: "This is only temporary. I need this help now and I'm grateful for it, but I'm going to try to get out of this hole, get back on my feet, and support myself. What I'm not going to do is complain about how many hoops I need to jump through to get my handout.""

You present this like it's an argument for hoops to jump through, when all it is, is a statement of your profound ignorance of what it's like to be part of the working poor. And when the hoops themselves are counterproductive and lead to outcomes like less than 50 percent of people who qualify using a service, that benefits no one save conservatives who confuse opprobrium with useful policy.

I both pay my taxes and help my fellow citizens gladly because I both understand that circumstances can hobble and that I have a positive duty to society and my fellow citizens. It's a shame that somewhere along the line, you lost that interest in fairness and have replaced it with scorn and niggardliness.

"And let me clarify something - I don't think that everyone on public assistance should feel "demeaned." There are lots of people who, through no fault of their own, are incapable of supporting themselves, and they need our support, not a gratuitous swipe at their dignity. I should have been more clear on that when I was responding to a particular commenter."

There is simply no way through policy to demean some and not all, leaving aside that demeaning any is cruel and stupid.
posted by klangklangston at 8:42 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


jb's point is crucial. We're making an investment in the kids of those who receive assistance. Even if the parent does have some "moral failing" or made bad choices (I am not implicating jb's mom), the kids are surely blameless. There is really no good alternative to withholding assistance; hungry homeless kids who can't get a proper education because of their unstable lives are going to perpetuate that misery into the next generation. The next generation will be paying for our medicare and social security when we're old, and it behooves us to create as many opportunities as we can for their success. If you (generic you) can't support assistance out of altruism and compassion, support it out of selfishness. We need a good tax base in order to have a good society.
posted by desjardins at 8:49 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


And when the hoops themselves are counterproductive and lead to outcomes like less than 50 percent of people who qualify using a service, that benefits no one save conservatives who confuse opprobrium with useful policy.

In 2010, official statistics show that 69% of people nationwide who qualify for food stamps are receiving them [.pdf, go to page 6 for Program Access Index rankings by state and for the national PAI]. I would imagine that a good portion of the 31% still left out are people with higher incomes who would qualify for smaller benefits, reducing their incentives to participate.

The rest of your comment is a lot of huffing, puffing and shadowboxing.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:55 AM on June 1, 2012


woops, messed up the link. Here's the real one.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:56 AM on June 1, 2012


No, it's not. Food stamp participation rates had been around 50 percent of eligibility up until the revamped SNAP program coincided with the recession.

And 30 percent of eligible people not participating still speaks to a powerful mismatch in programatic goals.

So while I'm glad you can google, I wish you could read.
posted by klangklangston at 9:05 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


[At this point if you do not stop this we will stop it for you. Take this to email, MetaTalk or just go for a walk please.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 AM on June 1, 2012


Even if the parent does have some "moral failing" or made bad choices (I am not implicating jb's mom), the kids are surely blameless.

Oh, no -- my mom made what were maybe not the best economic choices. She got pregnant (semi-on-purpose) and then was married at age 16, to someone who also wasn't old enough to be married yet. But then, there were reasons - she wished to leave a physically abusive parent and marriage seemed the only way out. Maybe she could have stuck around like her younger sister -- actually, after she left, her sister came to live with her to escape the abuse.

Other people I have known on either family benefits or in subsidized housing: a couple where the husband had a decent job but who were bad with money (no worse than most people, but they also had severely disabled son who needed a full-time caregiver and so only had one income), a single mother who had once been an addict and was trying to put her life together while still dealing with all the reasons she once turned to drugs, another single mother who worked full-time, but still didn't make enough money to pay for a market-rent apartment for her and her one child. (again back to the post)

This is all anecdata, of course, but what you realize living in communities where a fair number of people have benefits is that, just like unhappy families, people are in need for so many different reasons. Some may not seem to be "good" reasons, but they are reasons. Life isn't simply black and white: we all make choices, many of which might seem a good idea at the time, but later turn out to be a poor choice (like going to law school or grad school). The difference is that most middle-class people (like myself, now) have had families and other supports to help them through their rough patches. Benefits are necessary because not everyone has family that are capable of helping them (or their families are their rough patch).

And it really does make a difference for the future. I've only read/seen films about the dire circumstances of children who have grown up in unsupported poverty in North America (in places without benefits or with less generous benefits than 1980s Canada) -- and I'm amazed at how some people can survive it and make a good life for themselves. I don't think I could have. But they are the special ones, the amazing ones -- we shouldn't condemn everyone else for being just normal.

Anyways -- back to the post: Minimum wages are about setting floors, because we decided that the 19th century is not a period we want to go back to.
posted by jb at 9:59 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


One of the subjects I've been reading a lot about lately has been California labor movements, especially the 1893 depression and populist responses like Coxey's Army. It's kind of amazing to me how much echo I hear today of things that really did not work then — such as the widespread belief that people should be ashamed for seeking public programs to help them, whether that be food aid or work relief. One of the main reasons for labor violence in the early 20th century was the contempt heaped upon workers, or unemployed people, who wanted public help. It's alienating and led to more radicalization than there would have otherwise been.

(I do have to say that in terms of LA's labor history, I've got a much less rosy view of both sides than I had before digging into it. When given free reign and not restrained by labor laws, business owners tend to be absolutely rapacious and venal, but the early labor movement was crazily xenophobic and engaged in a lot of behavior that was both immoral and counterproductive. But really, more than anything, I've just been flabbergasted at the extent of governmental corruption in the Reconstruction to New Deal era. While cronyism certainly existed after Roosevelt, I think that he gets short shrift in popular history in terms of just how revolutionary his implementation of a government that worked for the people really was. Even in LA, probably the most corrupt city in America after Chicago, the idea that government programs could help people was both transformative and incredibly positive. A lot of the sustained grousing about New Deal and Great Society programs is the same wrong-headed nonsense that people have been spouting to justify their interests for over 100 years.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:27 AM on June 1, 2012


Oh, and the other thing that is really evident from LA labor troubles is how much minimum wage laws do really benefit the community by both boosting general wages and preventing reactionary wage slashing. (That and they illustrate how weird social views still linger even though they'd be illegal today — at the time, it was totally reasonable and popular for minimum wage advocates to set different wages for married men, single men, women, etc. and often even subdivided within those classes.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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