The Bare Minimum…Wage

Living in one of Americas most expensive cities, and hailing from an expensive city overseas, has often made me wonder what it would be like to live somewhere with a significantly lower cost of living. I’m sure that neither the salaries nor the perks of living in NYC would be quite what I’d want them to be. Many people have options about where to live, and though some may say that we all have choices about where we live, I submit that if a person is living on bare subsistence wages the chances are that s/he will not have the means to relocate to presumably greener pastures.

Most of us know there is a staggering wealth divide in this country, but how many of us know the costs associated with living where we do, and what the minimum wage is in our respective states? The U.S. Department of Labor compiles a list of minimum wages and the states’ laws; some states, such as Alabama, have no minimum wage law while others use a formulaic plan such as this one in California:

“Any work in excess of eight hours in one workday and any work in excess of 40 hours in one workweek and the first eight hours worked on the seventh day of work in any one workweek shall be at the rate of one and one-half times the regular rate of pay. Any work in excess of 12 hours in one day and any work in excess of eight hours on any seventh day of a workweek shall be paid no less than twice the regular rate of pay. California Labor Code section 310. Exceptions apply to an employee working pursuant to an alternative workweek adopted pursuant to applicable Labor Code sections and for time spent commuting. (See Labor Code sections 510 for exceptions).”

*Side note…I thought New York made everything more complicated than necessary…until I saw that.*

Four states have a minimum wage set lower than the federal minimum wage, 10 have a minimum wage that is linked to a consumer price index, and 8 of those ten states increased their respective minimum wages in January of this year (two “red” states chose not to). While there have been improvements in the economy, the poverty rate has risen since the beginning of the recession. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty guideline is $10,890 (within the 48 contiguous states) – just $209 a week and barely enough to live on in most cities.

Apparently, some realise that an increase to the minimum wage is overdue as proposals have been submitted in various states (including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois). On a federal level, we don’t know how likely it is that Congress will act (no surprise there) but we do know how some politicians feel about the minimum wage:

OK. Maybe not the best example. Who the hell ever knows what Mitt Romney thinks? He’s against an increase no; he’s for increasing it when it’s indexed to inflation; he’s against it when it upsets Wall Street and the Tea Party; he’s for it when he has to be a centrist in front of moderate audiences. Whatever. Yada yada yada.

Arguments against increasing the minimum wage include theories that the ‘job creators’ won’t be able to hire as many workers and, subsequently, the economy will suffer. However, the response to that bullcrap is two-pronged:  in terms of a boost to the economy, increasing the minimum wage will put more money into workers’ wallets ― the people who need it most and who will spend it the most because those on the lowest economic ladder simply don’t have the option of investing as the wealthy do. An increase in purchasing in turn increases demand which, in turn, creates jobs and pushes wages upward for everyone else. Millionaires and billionaires  save and invest extra income, which does not boost the economy.  Another point is that the 1% is making more money than ever (and paying far less in taxes than they have in the past generation).

It’s time Congress did something constructive to get a little bit of “trickle-up” economics going instead of continually allowing those below the 1% to get pissed trickled on.