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February 10, 2014 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Can you live on the minimum wage? NYTimes.com has provided you with a handy calculator to find out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (80 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also quite persuasive on how impossible this is -- Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed.
posted by bearwife at 2:27 PM on February 10 [14 favorites]


Apparently on my current income I can't afford a compatible browser.
posted by Jahaza at 2:28 PM on February 10 [19 favorites]


Wait, I don't get it.

Are they trying to tell me that I would have a hard time sustaining my current lifestyle if I made minimum wage? Because I know that already.

It'd be nicer if the calculator told me what I COULD afford to spend in each category if I made minimum wage. At least then I'd have something to compare it to.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 2:30 PM on February 10 [10 favorites]


Wait, I don't get it.

Are they trying to tell me that I would have a hard time sustaining my current lifestyle if I made minimum wage? Because I know that already.


I think the point is to illustrate to people who do dismiss the need to raise the minimum wage what the financial reality of trying to make ends meet on it really is.
posted by scody at 2:32 PM on February 10 [7 favorites]


According to this calculator, after paying my current rent and utilities, I would already be out of money. And my rent is not extravagant because I've been living in the same rent-controlled apartment for 18 years.

That's not even about maintaining my current lifestyle... that's being able to pay a reasonable rent and my DWP bill, and then also get to eat food. Which would apparently be out of the question.
posted by OolooKitty at 2:33 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


If this thing does anything other than display "LOL NO" in a digital calculator-looking font, somebody put far more than the required effort into making it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:34 PM on February 10 [87 favorites]


Well, as long as my wife keeps working I'll be fine.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:34 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I apparently can, though only if I never go out, never give gifts, and limit my restaurant visits to Wawa. And never get really sick. Or save anything.

Then again, I can largely do that because I graduated with no debt, have no car loan because I live in a safe area with affordable apartments, and I've been able to afford to stay healthy enough to a) hold down my job and b) walk to work. Which is not at all possible or feasible in most areas of the country to begin with.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:35 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


I entered my mortgage payment and it told me:

$27,632 in debt per year
Or, 67 more hours a week at a second job


But I don't think anyone expects anyone making minimum wage to buy a four bedroom house, so I have to concur that I don't really see the point of the exercise.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:38 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I will say that I really like how it re-calculates based on a $10.10 minimum wage. It's amazing what a difference that made for my calculation -- went from 65 hours a week to 44 to make ends meet!
posted by shesdeadimalive at 2:38 PM on February 10


People who dismiss the need to raise the minimum wage still think of it as solely the wage rate of high school kids earning date money. They fail to see that minimum wage has silently become the prevailing wage floor for many grown adults with families and older Americans who can't afford to retire.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:38 PM on February 10 [61 favorites]


I live in a relatively inexpensive city (with shitty public transportation) and I was doing OK until I got to the cost of transportation question. I make quite a bit more than minimum wage so instead of entering what I actually pay for housing and the like, I thought about where I might live if I was making minimum wage and put that in (a room-share could be had in my city for $350/month). This was pretty eye-opening for me.
posted by muddgirl at 2:40 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Also from the site itself:

"Enter monthly rent or mortgage payments (and don’t forget insurance, if this is paid separately) that you would expect to pay for a modest apartment or home in your area."
posted by muddgirl at 2:42 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Turns out I totally can survive! I simply cut out paying rent or buying food, and I'm good to go.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 2:42 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour, then peg it to inflation.

The jobs that pay less than that we don't want or need. Automate them away to hell where they belong.

To follow that, make a world-class college education free to anyone who wants it. If you can't find a job, we should be training you in the skills needed to get one. But we shouldn't be keeping minimum wages low just so we can keep around all these shitty jobs that nobody really wants and we as a civilization don't need.
posted by mullingitover at 2:45 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


This is why there should be a Pulitzer for information design.

You can take it from the editorial cartooning category.
posted by Apropos of Something at 2:45 PM on February 10 [12 favorites]


*bitter laughter*

*forever*

Getting stuck in jobs with "low barrier to entry" because of a combination of ableism, geographical location, and this economy means that this is my reality.
posted by lineofsight at 2:48 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


Raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour, then peg it to inflation.

Great idea!

The jobs that pay less than that we don't want or need. Automate them away to hell where they belong.

The former will not happen, however the latter is already happening. How about introducing a guaranteed basic income?
posted by ryoshu at 2:51 PM on February 10 [7 favorites]


If this thing does anything other than display "LOL NO" in a digital calculator-looking font, somebody put far more than the required effort into making it.

I came in to say exactly this. My version would've had "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" in wraparound text filling up the entire screen.
posted by naju at 2:56 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour, then peg it to inflation.

The jobs that pay less than that we don't want or need. Automate them away to hell where they belong.


Part of the problem with the minimum wage is that it's always chasing after a moving goalpost in the end. Doesn't matter how high you realistically raise it.

And using that kind of sledgehammer to decide what jobs we don't want or need leads down a rabbit hole of shittiness.

The better solution is the guaranteed minimum income which allows individuals to decide which jobs individuals themselves don't want or need.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:58 PM on February 10 [7 favorites]


Personally I advocate a maximum wage. I don't know how feasible it would be in operation, I just like the idea. I gather it transgresses the free market principles of capitalism and brands me as a terrorist for even thinking it, but *whatever forever*
posted by naju at 3:02 PM on February 10 [19 favorites]


It seems I can't! :(
posted by mazola at 3:05 PM on February 10


The jobs that pay less than that we don't want or need. Automate them away to hell where they belong.

You're going to be damned surprised how many minimum-wage jobs you definitely do need done, and can't be easily automated away. That or you're going to be horrified by how many extra homeless there are after their jobs have been automated away to hell.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:05 PM on February 10 [12 favorites]


I apparently can, though only if I never go out, never give gifts, and limit my restaurant visits to Wawa. And never get really sick. Or save anything.

I was unemployed for about a year and a half, coming off of being severely underemployed for about a year. I'm the kind of person (or I used to be) who never really spends money on nonessentials, and I had been babysitting since I was 11, so I had a pretty decent amount of savings, which I proceeded to eat through during my time unemployed. I lived on a little less than $13K, total, for a year and a half. I continued to make student loan payments and have a chronic illness that required prescriptions during that time.

The one thing I had going for me during that time was the "benefit" of not actually working, so I had the time to do things like walk everywhere and plan and cook very, very cheap meals. I remember I really, really wanted some cheese once and so bought myself some cheap brie and completely blew my food budget for the week. That's about the only frivolous thing I did.

I plugged my unemployed-time spends into that little calculator of theirs and actually came up with extra money leftover, but not a whole lot.

Where I'm going with is yes, it's possible to exist on a minimum wage salary. You can do it. (IF you have no dependents. IF you are on your parents' health plan. IF you somehow still manage to have time to cook. IF a lot of things. But even then it sucks.) It sucks and it's no kind of life, and the only reason I made it through without becoming completely and totally irreversibly depressed is that I knew it was temporary, that the second I actually got a job it would be over. It's not something I would wish on my worst enemy and it's certainly not something I'd wish on someone who was actually trying to contribute some value to the world or raise a family or serve me my food.

The folks who are out there arguing against raising the minimum wage might as well be wearing big badges on their chests that say, "Hi, I've never been poor! Ask me about my galling lack of empathy!" but the only folks who have to wear badges on their chests like that are generally the ones working the minimum wage jobs. So.
posted by phunniemee at 3:08 PM on February 10 [67 favorites]


Peooe who do nothing but work and sleep are terrible for the economy, they don't put any money into circulation, they don't support other industries beyond working and sleeping, besides any and all humanistic goals from a purely economic POV we should give them money to spend so everything at a certain level doesn't completely stagnate. This kind of poverty is a huge drag on a materialistic, capitalistic society.

Unles you don't actually want capitalism and instead want some kind of feudalism.....
posted by The Whelk at 3:16 PM on February 10 [46 favorites]


I entered information based on various stages of my life as a full-time employee. The only one that panned out was when I lived in rural Delaware, never ate out, and could get away with zero recreational spending because there was nothing to actually do there, and nobody to do it with.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:16 PM on February 10


I had to stop after about the third blank because I was already in crazy debt and I hadn't even gotten to medical insurance yet.

Stupid Bay Area housing costs...
posted by chatongriffes at 3:17 PM on February 10


The fact that people are arguing over an extra two or three bucks an hour is an utter embarrassment, plain and simple.

What do people think minimum wage employees are going to do with this (very small amount) of extra income? Hoard it in the bank and sit on it? Go to Wall Street and invest it? No - they're going to spend it. That is a good thing. It's going to go right back into the economy. I don't understand how that's not a win-win for all involved.
posted by windbox at 3:18 PM on February 10 [11 favorites]


Unles you don't actually want capitalism and instead want some kind of feudalism.....

DING DING DING DING DING

We have a winner!
posted by scody at 3:20 PM on February 10 [19 favorites]


You're going to be damned surprised how many minimum-wage jobs you definitely do need done, and can't be easily automated away. That or you're going to be horrified by how many extra homeless there are after their jobs have been automated away to hell.

Do any minimum-wage jobs actually need to pay so poorly, because the business doesn't make enough to pay more? Fast food restaurants are the typical minimum wage jobs, but some of them pay much more...
posted by Huck500 at 3:21 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


I don't understand how that's not a win-win for all involved.

Because executives know that to raise wages for their employees, they won't be able to keep padding their bottom line and their own compensation by exploiting labor subsidized by the US welfare system. That's the hidden fallacy behind the right-wing claim that raising the minimum wages raises prices for goods and leads to people losing their jobs - it ignores the fact that the maximum wage at companies has been rising unrestricted during the same period that minimum wages are stagnating.
posted by muddgirl at 3:25 PM on February 10 [19 favorites]


Dick's restaurant (actually a drive-in) in Seattle also offers better than minimum wage, and great benefits (like tuition and 401K). It *can* happen, it just doesn't - at least not very often.
posted by dbmcd at 3:27 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


One of my favorite things about Dick's Drive-In in Seattle (besides the burgers and the fries and the shakes and the complete lack of customization) is how they provide health insurance, college scholarship, and a starting wage above minimal.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:29 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


Double dicks tricks in this thread...whoops!
posted by oceanjesse at 3:29 PM on February 10 [8 favorites]


Do any minimum-wage jobs actually need to pay so poorly, because the business doesn't make enough to pay more?

No. The same kinds of companies paying the minimum wage in the US, are paying the Australian minimum wage (which is about $15 USD/hour) in Australia, and they are doing fine.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:30 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


Bad news: until I pay off my debt, I cant eat.

Good news: once I pay off my debt, I'll be able to eat at least once a month.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:38 PM on February 10 [8 favorites]


nope!
posted by Increase at 3:38 PM on February 10


Fuck, suddenly my desire to quit my main (and frustrating) job just disappeared.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:39 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


I always wondered if there were any actual economic downsides (i.e. not political or greed downsides) to having mandatory percentage caps for wages a la Whole Foods, where the highest paid employee can only make 12x the lowest paid employee. Always seemed to me like a rather elegant and simple way to fix the whole situation. But I'm kind of a socialist, so.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:41 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


mandatory percentage caps for wages a la Whole Foods, where the highest paid employee can only make 12x the lowest paid employee

That Whole Foods thing surprises me because they are singularly anti-union and generally not very worker friendly. After a little looking, it turns out they spin they salary limit by omitting stock options:
But they all omitted one thing: stock options. Last year, CEO John Mackey John Mackey ‘s salary and cash bonus equaled $436,000, almost exactly 14 times the average worker’s $32,000 salary. But he made $1.8 million exercising stock options, and received another $460,000 because of a company error that allowed stock options to expire unexercised. The grand total: $2.7 million. Another $4.4 million of options have vested, so he can exercise them if he wants.
posted by stopgap at 3:48 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


If this thing does anything other than display "LOL NO" in a digital calculator-looking font, somebody put far more than the required effort into making it.

I mean, I understand this sentiment, but obviously there are people out there living on minimum-wage jobs and who aren't working second jobs. Obviously they have some circumstance that is enabling them to survive. Maybe they are homeless. Maybe they don't have health insurance, or maybe they're racking up debt. This helps you visualize it.

But the thing is, anyone who is against raising the minimum wage would just look at this calculator and say "well, I just wouldn't have a cell phone. Or I wouldn't spend any money on cable or internet or anything nice for myself and I would only spend 50 bucks a month on cheap nutritious food, and I would only bike and walk everywhere." Of course, they don't realize that this would be a soul-crushing existence, because the same lack of empathy blinds them to both issues.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:49 PM on February 10 [9 favorites]


Minimum wage is a very blunt instrument that doesn't do too much to raise employment or help with poverty. If anything, it lowers employment. A better option to fight poverty is a guaranteed minimum income.
posted by sid at 3:57 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


But I don't think anyone expects anyone making minimum wage to buy a four bedroom house, so I have to concur that I don't really see the point of the exercise.

Because a divorced mom of three, and a disabled kid, who has an asshole for an ex, working two jobs can't afford and probably deserve to have a house because she's a poorz, amirite?
posted by BlueHorse at 3:58 PM on February 10 [12 favorites]


If anything, it lowers employment.

I don't think I've seen any credible studies which would state this so definitively. To me, minimum wage and a guaranteed minimum income are both necessary and are not replacements for each other.
posted by muddgirl at 3:59 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


...working two jobs can't afford and probably deserve to have a house because she's a poorz, emirate?

I'm not sure me entering my potential expenses into this online calculator says much one way or the other about what this hypothetical women does or doesn't "deserve".
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:01 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


tylerkaraszewski, no, but it maybe gives you a hint of how hard it would be for you to live if you spent a month in that woman's shoes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:04 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


My understanding was that the point of the exercise was to illustrate that people working minimum wage can't possibly afford what most of us think of as an 'average' lifestyle.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:05 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


You quickly find out which of your friends/acquaintances have class issues when you bring up the need for a living wage.

I *think* they've successfully raised it a bit in Ontario, where I'm headed in a few months time; I used the NYT calculator to see my old minimum wage income back home in Georgia and just sort of sat there, staring at the number, wondering how in the fuck I survived for a decade.
posted by Kitteh at 4:07 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


...but it maybe gives you a hint of how hard it would be for you to live if you spent a month in that woman's shoes.

It would be hard to be that woman even if she made $70,000/year.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:11 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


It would be hard to be that woman even if she made $70,000/year.

Of course. But when we limit her to a third of that....
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:12 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


But I don't think anyone expects anyone making minimum wage to buy a four bedroom house, so I have to concur that I don't really see the point of the exercise.

Well, I entered my rent on a tiny two-bedroom place that's cheap by L.A. standards (because even making several times more than minimum wage I can't afford to buy a house of any size in this city), and I still couldn't afford to live on minimum wage. Do you see the point of the exercise yet?
posted by scody at 4:18 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


I'm amazed no one has pulled down their pants and shit on the premise of this, as it rightly deserves.

Mainly, that there is no such thing as a full time* minimum wage job. It doesn't exist.

If you're super duper lucky you're going to get mid 30s hours a week. Lots of people are in the mid 20s.

This is life now.

I also kinda take offense at the fact that with many setups of this i did in my state, it pretended you would have any money left over and not be living totally paycheck to paycheck. Everyone i know making close to or minimum wage is totally broke all the time, and it's not "bad money management" or whatever.

I get that this was meant to show how fucked things are, but at times it obfuscates that as well.

*By which i mean 40 hours. Not safeway, tullys, and other big corporations claims that 32 hours a week is "full time"
posted by emptythought at 4:19 PM on February 10 [18 favorites]


I do. Well, not right now, because I've decided working these types of jobs isn't worth the hassle of trying to find one or the threat of being made to wear a stupid uniform, so for now I'm just dicking around with side projects I'll never complete and using savings. But in my last job, which was as a temp in a warehouse for giant multi-national Nike, I was minimum wage. In Ontario that is $10.25, probably significantly better than in most of the US (it will rise to $11 this year). The other here and there temp jobs I had for a couple years prior to that (like for giant multi-national Sony) were also minimum wage. I could still put money in the bank at that, but I'm single, and I like eating pasta. The biggest problem is not the dollar amounts, but that in most of the jobs that are minimum wage you're considered expendable, mostly anonymous, and you don't develop skills or experience or contacts that will lead to anything better. Or even keep you around in the job you're working. And there's instability to living so modestly, a person invests in nothing, dragging around other people's cast-offs from place to place, and with age you begin to realize it will become more and more difficult to find affordable situations, both in work and living, to grasp on to.
posted by TimTypeZed at 4:29 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


If this thing does anything other than display "LOL NO" in a digital calculator-looking font, somebody put far more than the required effort into making it.

OK, we need this weaponized and blasted in the face of every "columnist" at Forbes.

Repeatedly and without mercy.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:55 PM on February 10


Well, I'd have to work 5hrs a week at a second job just to make my rent payment, so, no. Idiotic exercise, few people can live on $14,500 a year, and the ones that do are pooling resources from multiple earners, state and federal aid, etc. No one can "live" on minimum wage as their sole source of income, at least where "living" is defined as any kind of reasonably stable existence.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:08 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Who the heck is going to loan me that much money to make up the difference?
posted by blue_beetle at 5:12 PM on February 10


The year after college, I had two part-time jobs in waitressing and food service that added up to about 40 hours a week, and averaged about $10 an hour. I lived in a small town with a very low cost of living. I could walk or bike almost anywhere I needed, and I managed to pay my bills including the full monthly bill of my student loans (about $400 a month).

In the years looking back since then, it always stuns me how incredibly fortunate that was, and how very depressingly rare that is for most people stuck in the low wage system.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:16 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


No one can "live" on minimum wage as their sole source of income, at least where "living" is defined as any kind of reasonably stable existence.

And yet Congress seems to think people can.

That is the point of the exercise, to get us to cram this information into the hands of our elected officials - who are voting against doing something to raise the minimum wage again and again and again and again and again - and say "do you get it NOW, you fucksmacks?"

Or, it is meant to convince us that if those fucksmacks continue to vote against minimum wage raising, we should vote against THEM.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:19 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


There is currently a movement in Seattle to raise the minimum wage to $15. With enough support and effort we can push this nationwide - and bring millions of people out of poverty.
posted by entire_owl at 5:19 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


Who the heck is going to loan me that much money to make up the difference?

Montel Williams. Perhaps you've seen him vouch for MoneyMutual? (I'd link it but it gets blasted by WOT)
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:35 PM on February 10


The Whelk: Unles you don't actually want capitalism and instead want some kind of feudalism.....

From Philip Mirowski's "The Thirteen Commandments of Neoliberalism"
[9] THOU SHALT KNOW THAT INEQUALITY IS NATURAL
Neoliberals regard inequality of economic resources and political rights not as an unfortunate byproduct of capitalism, but a necessary functional characteristic of their ideal market system.
posted by sneebler at 5:46 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


People who dismiss the need to raise the minimum wage still think of it as solely the wage rate of high school kids earning date money.

Some of them. Others want to maintain a permanent underclass to exploit. It's a big ol' tent of ignorance, shortsightedness, and greed!
posted by threeants at 6:21 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Social worker here... Just also wanted to remind people in the USA SSI for people who are either disabled from childhood and or have verty poor work histories and are disabled get a grand total of 726 (maybe 721) per month which is a little Less than 9k. They give people here an additional 100 or so dollars in food stamps provided they are paying approximate 30 percent of their income rent and utilities that's about 225. A max of 189 per individual can be awarded. Insurance aside from low copays is free. If for some reason you can save any money for like an emergency /moving expenses whatever After 2000 in savings they loose social security because obviously they dont need it. Dentures here cost about 400 out of pocket and the only thing covered by dental is extractions so there are many of these individuals toothless or near toothless. Without extensive social services or family these people do terrible. Obviously.

The problem is that even when people work for a 'living ' people just dont care. There is no magical success without having enough income to be able to save or grow. Living paycheck to paycheck stagnates society and creates systemic barriers for those families.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:41 PM on February 10 [15 favorites]


What gets me is back in the early 80's I could and did live on minimum wage in Sarasota. No health insurance, and occasionally worked a side job "babysitting" old folks when their minders or spouses were out of town, but I did it.

There is no way on God's green earth I could see someone doing that now. At all.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:59 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Also quite persuasive on how impossible this is -- Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed.

Oh! I read that when it first came out... in 2001... when the federal minimum wage was the same as it is now, but a gallon of gas at the pump was $1.46.
posted by Houstonian at 7:09 PM on February 10 [22 favorites]


There is no magical success without having enough income to be able to save or grow

This is so very true. All the talk of growth and self-betterment is completely empty for anyone unable to generate a surplus.
posted by Miko at 8:17 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


I don't think anyone expects anyone making minimum wage to buy a four bedroom house, so I have to concur that I don't really see the point of the exercise.

Imagine that you lose the job and/or partner/family member(s) who are now helping to pay for that house. You take the minimum wage job because it is the only job you can find. You sure can't keep your house anymore, can you? Better start looking. That's when this calculator will come in really handy for you. Hope you're not upside down on the place you have to sell, and that it moves fast.

It's happened to the best of 'em.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


I was plugging things in with the assumption that I was needing to live a very austere lifestyle. Renting a room in a group house, eating nothing but beans and rice, taking the bus every day, etc. And it was going fine. I was paying all the bills and even putting a little away.

Then I scrolled down.

And realized that was my income before taxes.
posted by capricorn at 8:49 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


It would be hard to be that woman even if she made $70,000/year. Not nearly so hard. Single parenting with a deadbeat jerk of an ex- isn't easy, but at 70k you could afford to see your kids, get them the things they need, not be terrified of any surprise in the budget like a trip to the doctor, and you could afford to buy shoes for your kids. Money may not buy happiness, but poverty surely buys misery.

People have families. Think it's hard to live on minimum wage when it's just you? Have some kids. Sure, you'll get some food stamps (which just got cut), the kids will get free school lunches, if you get on the waiting list, you'll get some housing subsidy in several years. Why shouldn't anybody willing to work full time be able to have a decent life, not just for themselves, but for a family? 15/hr = 32k / year, barely enough to have a family. Being a restaurant worker, grocery clerk, cleaner, etc. shiuldnt mean you have to be young and/ or single. It's just fairness and common decency.
posted by theora55 at 2:25 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I disagree that living on minimum wage is impossible-- for a young person in good health with no outstanding debt or dependents. I've managed okay for quite a while now in a variety of cities in the US and it wasn't a daily depressing slog for me. I did enjoy my jobs though, so I'm sure the experience was less demoralizing.

Unfortunately, most of us aren't young people in good health with no outstanding debt or dependents. I can't imagine how I would have survived with a kid or a chronic health problem. (though, not as a derail and not to push back against the main point of raise minimum wage, but I recently visited a friend who is the single mom of two and earning minimum wage and she got a much-needed 9k back on her taxes. So I think that financial situations in which people get by are more complex than that calculator is accounting for.)
posted by geegollygosh at 7:01 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


most of us aren't young people in good health with no outstanding debt or dependents

And even if you are, nobody stays that way forever. It's not an economic structure that can sustain a lifetime's worth of labor. If there were alternatives, that would be great, but this is increasingly the only kind of job available to those without professional training.

single mom of two and earning minimum wage and she got a much-needed 9k back on her taxes...financial situations in which people get by are more complex than that calculator is accounting for

Sounds like the earned income tax credit. Not sure how she got $9K back if she averages just $15-16K which would be minimum wage-area - she'd never have contributed that much in the first place - but it may be that her taxes on $9K of her gross income were forgiven and that's what she meant. There are benefits available in the US, but see AlexiaSky's comments for how far they extend, and what they do/don't help you with. It's a little more complex, but not much more complex, and where you start is monthly expenditures, which this describes. What's exhausting is the amount of paperwork, waiting, and scheduling people have to do around getting access to these benefits. Also, qualifying for benefits (say, heating assistance in counties and states that offer that) doesn't mean you don't have to ante up the cash before receiving the benefit reimbursement, which plays hell with cash flow.
posted by Miko at 7:56 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Also (finally) I don't think this is meant to show that living on minimum wage is "impossible." I think it's meant to show that living on minimum wage means making serious sacrifices on things that many people consider to be basic needs. For instance, you may need to share a house with one or more unrelated roommates. You may need to forego dental care. You may need to heat your place with a space heater in one room instead of heating the whole house to a comfortable temperature. You may need to use public transport and not own a car. You may need to move somewhere substandard or unsafe so you can afford the commute. You may need to accumulate debt to take care of emergencies with your health or other things (like cars) that impact your employment - or just to make up your shortfall on essentials. These are sacrifices most middle-class people consider inconsistent with a desirable standard of living.

I agree that in your early 20s, bohemianist poverty entails making some of these choices. If you are still doing that in your 40s, though, when you no longer are seeing the intangible benefits such a life once brought you in terms of social activity, job satisfaction, 'seeing the world,' being independent, having fewer responsibilities, etc, it is not what you could call a good, satisfying, healthy, sustainable standard of living.
posted by Miko at 8:02 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Like I said, my comment about my friend is in no way meant to diminish how hard it is to be a single mom on that income, or an argument for not raising the minimum wage. Just relating the anecdote because the calculator doesn't add a lot of nuance to painting a picture of that sort of situation and while I'm not arguing that it's still hard hard hard, it's several degrees of magnitude less impossible when you're getting that much back on taxes (99% sure she meant she was getting that money back, I'm sure with the EITC included- it looks like that would be around 5k for her situation. But who knows, she could have done her taxes wrong.)

There are a few people in this thread saying that living on minimum wage is impossible-- that was who I was responding to, not the purpose of the calculator. And, yeah, that's why I said it was possible, for ME, as someone young with no dependents or debt. As soon as one of those factors changes, it no longer works. Which is the problem with minimum wage- it's based on what someone like me needs to survive, but most people on minimum wage aren't in my situation.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:47 AM on February 11


I could!

Of course, that's because I'm "living" on less than minimum wage (which is $1,200 a month in my state and I'm getting by, barely, on $1,000 a month social security disability minus deductions).

A single person making only minimum wage is only slightly above the US federal poverty line, which is $957.50 a month.

Granted, that $242.50 is 25% of $957.50, so in percentage terms, that's a big jump. Still, someone at $1,200 is likely to qualify for some public help of various sorts — possibly heating and cooling subsidies, eligibility for lower-rent units in low-income housing tax credit properties (low income tenants can be charged a maximum rent of 30% of the maximum eligible income, which is 60% of the area's median income adjusted for household size as determined by HUD), possibly a small amount of food stamps (every bit counts at this income), some other things.

And if this is a family household with children, then minimum wage will be well below the poverty line and many other sources of public support will be available.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:31 AM on February 11


99% sure she meant she was getting that money back

That's just pretty much mathematically impossible. To get it "back" would mean she was being taxed at a rate that took $9000 out of a $16000 annual salary. People often are fuzzy about what's going on with their taxes, so the language isn't always clear. But that's a tax rate even the top brackets aren't paying.

the calculator doesn't add a lot of nuance to painting a picture of that sort of situation

It doesn't, but that's where I think its beauty lies. Because as soon as you get into any individual's particulars, you can no longer compare apples to appeals enough to reveal the effects of policy. Everyone's financial picture is different. The total picture is affected by family size, climate, distance from work, eligibility or noneligibility for certain kinds of assistance, whether they own a car/don't own a car/are paying down a car loan, need regular medication, etc. I think it's great at revealing how very little spending power and savings-accumulation power this income offers - and even if it qualifies for you assistance, it reveals that many people will not be able to live on this income without drawing on public sources of funds for basic needs like food, shelter, and heat. For those of a bootstrap mentality, it shows how empty that reasoning is.

I understand you didn't mean it as an attack on the general principle and am not fighting with you, just kind of elaborating on what this tool can and can't show.
posted by Miko at 9:43 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The serious problem with the vast majority of the money being in the hands of a very small percentage of people is that any raise to minimum wage is just going to be passed along to and affect the very large "Middle Class" percentage of people who currently patronize businesses in the form of price hikes and service cuts.

The affected majority may no longer be able to afford or want to go to these establishments as often, due to these inevitable price increases and longer waits. Less volume means lower profits means more price increases / service cuts, and so on.

I perceive the end result as stores having less employees (although these workers would be making more money) resulting in more unemployed people, and greater demands on these employees by establishments. I'm sure a retailer would capitalize on the increased amount of a potential employee pool to foist quotas and crack the whip on those "lucky" few making $15 an hour at minimum wage.

I wish the government would just lay down the law and cap personal wealth at 250 million and corporate wealth at 10 Billion. Anything earned over that has to be dumped back into the economy (building new factories, new hires, buying cars, whatever...) or Uncle Sam will confiscate it.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:15 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Still, someone at $1,200 is likely to qualify for some public help of various sorts — possibly heating and cooling subsidies, eligibility for lower-rent units in low-income housing tax credit properties (low income tenants can be charged a maximum rent of 30% of the maximum eligible income, which is 60% of the area's median income adjusted for household size as determined by HUD), possibly a small amount of food stamps (every bit counts at this income), some other things.

For now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on February 11


I wish the government would just lay down the law and cap personal wealth at 250 million and corporate wealth at 10 Billion. Anything earned over that has to be dumped back into the economy (building new factories, new hires, buying cars, whatever...) or Uncle Sam will confiscate it.

Absent serious and severe campaign finance reform, there is zero incentive for an elected official to support this... at least, if they ever want to be re-elected.

Even if it did somehow come to pass, the rich would be highly motivated to find ways to hide their wealth. I mean, they do that now by finding loopholes in tax law and/or offshoring their bank accounts. I have zero confidence that any money would ever be confiscated. Well, they might find some rapper to make an example out of.
posted by desjardins at 12:06 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


This was my reply to a Facebook friend's assertion, "[A]nd getting 7k-8k is WAY better than Tanf, so in effect, a person is better off earning 13k-16k per year plus Wic and EBT, than to get that 28k-40k year job[.]" The discussion stemmed from his evidence-free assertion of the apocryphal "hair-and-nails did" — i.e. black — woman getting an "8 thousand dollar check from the government" while he was getting his taxes done at H&R Block. He also argued, "why shouldn't people get EBT instead of that money going to working people?"
WIC is for low-income breastfeeding mothers. To be eligible for SNAP in Georgia, unless you are disabled you have to work. I encourage you to use the Georgia COMPASS eligibility calculator and see for yourself that it's just not like you think it is.

Your hypothetical person, a breast-feeding single mother working at a job that pays the minimum of $13,000/year (approx. $1,083.33/month) required for the maximum EITC of $5,110, could receive a maximum SNAP (what you're calling EBT) benefit of $200/month, presuming she also pays for rent, utilities, etc. If she doesn't have rent and utility payments, her family could receive the minimum SNAP benefit of $21.88/month. You have to reapply every year for SNAP.

As a breastfeeding mother, she would be eligible for WIC which provides vouchers for the specifically necessary foods to bring her breast milk up to standard, e.g. Exactly one gallon of the cheapest milk, one dozen eggs, 36 oz. of cereal, and $6 worth of vegetables. [2] Let's call that $20 a week.

In any case, all told our hypothetical single mother earns $13K gross at her job and we'll presume she gets a full refund, gets the maximum ETIC of $5,110, we'll say she gets the average for SNAP so that amounts to $3,444 per year, and $20 a week or $1,040 per year for WIC. That comes to $22,594 in earned income and benefits for a family of four, including a babe-in-arms still being breastfed. That's $456 under the 2012 federal poverty level for our hypothetical family.
I have since stopped arguing with such people. They are apparently not participating in the same reality I am.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:15 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I think it's meant to show that living on minimum wage means making serious sacrifices on things that many people consider to be basic needs. For instance, you may need to share a house with one or more unrelated roommates. You may need to forego dental care. You may need to heat your place with a space heater in one room instead of heating the whole house to a comfortable temperature. You may need to use public transport and not own a car. You may need to move somewhere substandard or unsafe so you can afford the commute. You may need to accumulate debt to take care of emergencies with your health or other things (like cars) that impact your employment - or just to make up your shortfall on essentials.

Also worth noting that for example, I had to do literally every single one of those things when I was making 30K a year - i.e., way, way more than minimum wage. I have been really fortunate not to have to live on $8 an hour, but I'd imagine the sacrifices you end up making would be more like, boy, I really hope this skin infection settles down on its own because I don't have the cash for a $20 co-pay until the 1st (let alone the part of the bill that my high-deductible plan won't cover). Or, I sure hope nobody figures out that I'm living in an illegal sublet divided into multiple rooms and evicts me, because I can't afford even one room in a shared house within public transport range from my job.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:58 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


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