Realities of the Minimum Wage

It’s been 10 years since the Occupy Wall Street movement introduced discussions about wage gaps, the 1%, and wall street’s leaching into the main stream, and the national minimum wage is still $7.25. Inflation alone should’ve raised the minimum wage to $8.43 in order to have the same buying power as in 2011. But $8.43 is nowhere near enough, not with record high rent costs, mortgage rates, car payments, health care costs, and all the other baseline expenses required just to stay alive.

Could you live off $7.25/hour? — Let’s break it down:

$7.25/hour at 40 hours/week is $290/week or $1,160 a month and that’s before taxes. That’s not even taking into account that most minimum wage jobs are part time, rather than full time, meaning most have to have two or more jobs to make ends meet.

Some might say, “well, the cost of living is different everywhere, $7.25 works for some places.” And, while technically correct, places are different, the fact remains that $7.25/hour is still too low. Let’s look at one of the cheapest places to live in the United States: McAllen, Texas.

Texas’s minimum wage is the same as the national: $7.25. Currently on Zillow, the cheapest property for rent is $500/month for a 1 bedroom, 1 bath. Even with the tacked on $250 safety deposit, that’s only $750 for the first month. With $1,160 a month, that might seem doable on paper.

But most rental companies and landlords require income to be three times the monthly rent. Someone renting a property for $500 would have to make at least $1,500 a month for most landlords to except. Add on utilities, commuting costs (gas, rideshare, public transport), and other expenses and $1,160/month (minus taxes) doesn’t cut it.

19 states still have a $7.25 minimum wage. The most expensive place to live in a 7.25 wage state is Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Currently on Zillow, the cheapest property for rent is a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment for $1,095/month with a $500 deposit fee. That $1,160/month barely covers the rent alone, and doesn’t leave any room for any additional expenses.

This is the reality of the rental market for most Americans. That’s not even taking into consideration the required credit score to rent the property, or the potential commute to work. Even in McAllen, one of the cheapest places to live in the country, the minimum wage doesn’t cut it.

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