When people who make more than enough money in their daily lives think about the minimum wage as a concept, a lot of them are quick to point out that the minimum wage as it currently stands is more than enough to live off of. While that may be true to a certain extent, they couldn’t be more wrong about this topic.
Yes, for most of the United States a minimum wage is enough to live off of. Because when you think of the essentials in life, the two basic ones are food and water. And with a $10 per hour job at 40 hours per week, you have about $400 dollars (before taxes) to spend on food and water. And for most people that is most definitely doable.
But then you consider that living means more than food and water, but a place to live. And rent in the United States has gone completely out of control since the housing market crash caused home and rent prices to bottom out in 2012. Taking just Oregon for example, a studio apartment will cost you about $1,080 per month on average. And a one-bedroom apartment averages $1,107 per month.
Just by taking into account rent alone, you can see that minimum wage is not sustainable for someone trying to actually live. Even if you live with a roommate or you live with your spouse in a one-bedroom apartment, you are stretching your budget very thin as is.
And then we get to other ancillary necessities such as utilities to power your home, or even gas to get to and from work. Yes, you can technically live without any of those expenses, but the reality is that they are a virtual necessity to living a decent life (not to mention a virtual necessity to actually getting to your place of work and doing a good job so that you actually can get paid a “living wage”).
Now think about if you have kids of your own! You would need to pay for another human being to live, which essentially doubles the cost of food and water, and potentially can increase your expected rent since you would need more space to house multiple people. And they would require all sorts of other costs that are implicit to raising them well – things like their education and any medical expenses that you would have to cover for them.
And last but not least, there is the inherent need for all humans to actually enjoy the life that they are living. And the reality is that in order to enjoy life, you often need money. Even new books for leisure reading will cost money, not to mention a television if that is how you enjoy spending your time. And if you want to go on vacation and truly enjoy the world, then that costs even more money!
On the surface, yes there are only a few essential things necessary for survival. But that is not living – not in the slightest. So when someone says that a minimum wage is a living wage, they are either ignorant, or they are lying to themselves.