OPINION: $15 hourly wage isn’t livable anywhere in the U.S.

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Despite making more than double the federal minimum wage, families relying on $15 an hour wouldn’t make enough to cover necessities such as food, rent and health care

By BRAEDEN WADDELL

The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour for the past 12 years. Despite years of debate over a raise to $15 per hour, and a recent focus in Congress on increasing wages, even if that increase was implemented it is no longer enough to support the average American family.

A new report from USAFacts (https://usafacts.org/articles/minimum-wage-15-day) shows that single-earner households making $15 an hour would take two years working every weekday to make what the average family spends annually.

The analysis focuses on the middle 20 percent of income earners and compares a $15 an hour wage to the average family’s expenses such as health care, food and housing using the data compiled from the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Labor and the Census Bureau from 2018, the most recent year with full data.

Among those U.S. households, 71 percent rely primarily on a single earner for the family.

NOT LIVABLE ANYWHERE
Although average family expenses differ from state to state, the data shows that no family relying on a single $15 hourly income could afford average annual expenses anywhere in the U.S.

In Mississippi, the state with the lowest average family expenses, it would take 72 full workweeks at $15 an hour to cover expenses, and the state’s current minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour. In Washington, D.C., with the highest average family spending, it would take more than two and a half years.

Only nine states and Washington, D.C., have, or are in the process of, implementing a $15 per hour minimum wage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Even if a $15 federal minimum wage was signed into law, American families relying on a single minimum-wage earner would only bring in about half the money needed to cover average basic expenses each year.

Although many states are on track to increase their minimum wages to between $10 and $13 an hour, basic necessities such as rent on a two-bedroom apartment would require an hourly take-home pay of $24.90 per hour just to be affordable.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Missouri voters in 2018 approved a plan to gradually raise the minimum wage by 85 cents an hour until it reaches $12 an hour in 2023. The current minimum wage in Missouri is $10.30.

(Illinois raised its minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2020 and $11 an hour this year, and is set to raise it by $1 a year until it reaches $15 in 2025.)

In an executive order in April, President Joe Biden required federal contractors to pay their employees $15 per hour by March 2022.

Biden had included an increase to the minimum wage in an early version of the American Rescue Plan Act, but it was removed from the final text.

(Braeden Waddell is an investigative reporter for U.S. News & World Report, where this article was originally published.)

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