|

An Unlivable Minimum


July 31st, 2007

Published on Saturday, July 28, 2007 by The Boston Globe

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/07/28/2824/

by Derrick Z. Jackson

The Democratic presidential candidates were asked in the CNN/YouTube debate if they were willing to work in the White House for the national minimum wage. Senators Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden said no.

Dodd whined, “I have two young daughters who I’m trying to educate. . . . I don’t think I could live on the minimum wage.” Biden moaned, “My net worth is $70,000 to $150,000. That’s what happens you get elected at 29. I couldn’t afford to stay in the Congress for the minimum wage. But if I get a second job, I’d do it.”

If Dodd, first elected to the Senate 27 years ago, and Biden, first elected to the Senate 35 years ago, say they cannot work for four years at the minimum wage, that is a huge hint to the minimal meaning in this week’s raise from $5.15 to $5.85. It was frozen in place by Congress for a decade. It will go to $6.55 next summer and to $7.25 the summer after that.

But it will remain far short of the real value it had a half-century ago. In 1956, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the minimum wage was 56 percent of the national average wage. The value shriveled to 31 percent last year. But EPI analyst Liana Fox said that even with the increases, she projects the $7.25 will be only 41 percent of the national average wage of $17.86.

The real value of the $7.25 an hour in 2009 will only be $6.42. Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, concurred with somewhat different numbers, projecting a drop in value down to $6.93.

“This increase is very modest,” Fox said diplomatically over the telephone. “People are still going to be scraping by for rent, transportation, healthcare, and food. This still would be below basic necessities.”

Noah Berger, executive director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, projects that the Commonwealth’s $8 an hour minimum wage in 2008 will rapidly lose its real value as well, falling back to $6.83 by 2013 if there are no changes. Wage fairness advocate Beth Shulman, author of “The Betrayal of Work,” said even if the minimum wage were $9 or $10 an hour and indexed for inflation, which many policy experts and the Democratic candidates advocate as a meaningful bare minimum, “No one can live on that in America.”

The Economic Policy Institute calculates that a “basic” family budget for one parent and one child in Boston should be nearly $50,000. That assumes a rent of $1,266 a month. Nearly a third of Massachusetts residents live below that line. The Democratic candidates know this at some level. During the same debate, Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, said he would establish a national minimum wage for teachers at $40,000.

Even the most cursory comparisons betray how outrageous the minimum wage is. One hour of $5.85 minimum-wage work gets you just two gallons of gasoline. The fact that the affluent can mindlessly drop $5.85 for a lunch-time sandwich or a latte and muffin at Starbucks makes us forget that the working poor have to work (based on the lowest prices for these items at my neighborhood Shaw’s supermarket) approximately:

Half an hour for a 5-pound bag of white rice.

More than half an hour to afford a pound of butter.

More than half an hour for a loaf of white bread and a 16-ounce jar of peanut butter at $1.88.

More than half an hour for a 1.81-pound family-pack of pork chops.

45 minutes for a gallon of milk.

55 minutes for 1.52 pounds of beef chuck on sale.

A full hour to afford a nearly 5-pound family-pack of chicken drumsticks or thighs.

A full hour to afford a pound of fresh salmon.

A full hour to throw a 1-pound bag of frozen vegetables, a pound of fresh tomatoes, and a bag of carrots into the cart.

Biden is worried about his net worth being as low as $70,000. At $5.85 an hour, it would take nearly 12,000 hours, or nearly six years, to earn that amount. Even six rolls of toilet paper requires a half-hour of work at minimum wages. Shulman is right. No one should live like that in America.

Derrick Z. Jackson’s e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.

© 2007 The Boston Globe

This entry was posted in Living Wages. Bookmark the permalink.


2021 CWP Newsletter Summary

December 15th, 2021

There is a big debate among economists about a curious phenomenon unfolding right now called “The Great Resignation”. We have an immense labor shortage because people are not returning to work as the experts expected (common after a recession). There … Continue reading

2021 Center Update: Ring the Bell of Hope… Again, and Again

December 15th, 2021

This fall, in one of my first trips to visit my coworkers from the Ayni Institute in Boston, I stopped by New York City to visit one of my closest friends, Eric Stoner. And I was sitting on his couch, … Continue reading

2021 House Journal

December 15th, 2021

The Center for the Working Poor was founded in 2006, but we didn’t move into our large Victorian house until 2007. Therefore, we have been in the house for 14 years now; and throughout this time, only Paul Engler has … Continue reading

The Story of Community Counseling

December 15th, 2021

Over the last year, we have started beta groups for a new model of mutual aid counseling, called Community Counseling that has engaged dozens in weekly small group counseling practice and training. In November, I went to Boston to lead … Continue reading

2020 Center Update: Surrender and Become Attentive

December 17th, 2020

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die …” — Ecclesiastes 3:1 “Surrender to what is dying, and become attentive to what is emerging.”  — … Continue reading

Monasticism, Indigenous Cultures, Burning Man, and/or Kingdom of God?: My trip to Taize.

December 27th, 2019

After being invited to Barcelona, Spain this fall for a chaotic tour of book talks, TV appearances, and radio interviews, I needed a place to recover from all the activity. And one of the greatest realizations of my life has … Continue reading

Are We Cells in a Mystical Body? Center Update 2018

December 24th, 2018

As many of you know, I am a social justice geek. I compulsively read and think about social movements, and have been doing this for a long time, and am now considered a specialist in the field commonly referred to … Continue reading

CENTER UPDATE 2017

January 18th, 2018

The election of Trump was like somebody threw a political bomb into the middle of a crowded room. For undocumented people, it meant fear of losing DACA and being deported. For labor unions and the working poor, it meant losing … Continue reading