succumbing to peer pressure

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This graph (and the ideas behind it) should be taught in schools. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don't know that working full time at minimum wage results in living below the poverty level*. My liberal, hippy parents encouraged me to do the math myself when I started a minimum wage job in high school.

The two arguments that always get trotted out whenever the minimum wage is discussed are: a) Unemployment will rise! and b) only teenagers and people supplementing their income earn minimum wage - it was never meant to provide an actual living and cover the cost of things like rent and groceries.

First, currently 30 out of 50 states already have a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage and, prior to the current economic crisis, none of their job markets collapsed. If necessary, an increase in minimum wage can be accompanied by tax credits or other incentives to help out truly small businesses.

Second, the Department of Labor Statistics reported that for 2008 24.5% of those earning the minimum wage were 16 to 19 years old. This certainly does not constitute a majority and although this group obviously does include high school kids working summers and weekends and living at home, it also includes adults who may indeed be supporting themselves (and possibly others). Or at least attempting to. We may never know precisely what portion of those working for minimum wage jobs have other sources of income/support and which are relying solely on their hourly wage to cover rent, utilities, and groceries, but to assume the former constitutes a majority is clearly inaccurate.

*of course, the poverty level itself is a huge farce, based on Department of Agriculture recommendations regarding the minimal nutrition required a day to keep a person alive**. Almost from the beginning of its creation the FPL needed an overhaul, but no administration wants to do that because, by definition, it 'creates' more poor people. The government acknowledges this by setting the guidelines for various social programs at 150% and 200% the FPL.

**Orshansky based her poverty thresholds on the economy food plan — the cheapest of four food plans developed by the Department of Agriculture. The actual combinations of foods in the food plans, devised by Agriculture Department dietitians using complex procedures, constituted nutritionally adequate diets; the Agriculture Department described the economy food plan as being "designed for temporary or emergency use when funds are low." (Orshansky also developed a second set of poverty thresholds based on the Agriculture Department's somewhat less stringent low-cost food plan, but relatively little use was ever made of these higher thresholds.)


Blogger Stephen said...

Jeffrey Steingarten had an essay in "The Man Who Ate Everything" where he writes about different poverty food plans, including living on the Thrifty Food Plan for I think maybe a week. The two major problems with the Thrifty food plan were apparently (1) it takes a ton of time to do the cooking, and (2) it was designed not to deviate from the average American's propensity to eat way too much meat - meaning you were buying lots of cheap meat and crappy vegetables. People could eat tastier food on the same budget if they ate more like classical peasant cuisine - lots of beans and hearty vegetables in stews and stuff (he has some recipes at the end of the essay if I recall).

6:01 AM  

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