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Friday, October 31, 2014

Column: Minimum wage debate: are workers being paid enough?

Grace Hase

Jan. 22, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

A living wage is the minimum amount of income necessary that a person must earn in order for them to obtain necessary, basic needs. But, in many cases, a city’s minimum hourly wage is not enough for a person to live off of.

In Columbia, Mo., the minimum wage is set at $7.50 per hour, while a living wage for one adult is about $7.65 an hour—a fairly small margin between the two. However, as the number living off a minimum hourly income increases, the margin grows. For example, while an adult with one child is still earning $7.50 an hour, the wage amount needed to provide the pair with basic needs is approximately $16.47.

How does a family of two survive off of such a small income, you may ask? It's by cutting costs in essential areas, such as food and medical bills. In fact, by living off of this kind of income, it puts the family barely above the poverty line—which sits at a wage of about $7 an hour.

One misconception that many people have about wages is that the only jobs that don't have living wages are in the fast food industry, an industry that traditionally has been limited to teenagers and college students. In actuality, jobs in sales, office and administration, transportation and farming, will often not fully support an adult with a child because their hourly wage is still too low—$16 is the minimum hourly amount that supports both an adult and child. This means that some jobs that require a college education still have an income that does not cover their living costs.

Is this really fair for Americans? More often than not, people blame homelessness and poverty on the bad decisions the affected party has made. But really, shouldn't we blame our political leaders instead for not accepting this war on poverty? After all, aren't they the ones that pass the laws for increases in minimum wage? Yes, we as citizens must put in effort to make our voices heard about this great injustice, but in the end, the ones voting hold the power to change the wage.

This past summer and winter break I had the opportunity to intern with a local non-profit that provides services to those in poverty. By doing this, I had the opportunity to see just how much the recent minimum wage increase in my city had helped those working minimum wage jobs. Since the new income these workers were earning was extremely close to a small family’s living wage, it made it easier for them to afford basic needs. During my time here, I heard a story of a man who was affected by the wage increase in a very positive way. Before the increase, he was unable to buy milk for his children, but, with a couple of extra dollars an hour in his pocket, he was able to afford it.

Many of us wouldn't consider milk a luxury item, but for those that fight every day against unjust wages, it is. Shouldn't everyone be able to live in a world where something as little as milk isn't a luxury item?

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