Is $13 an hour good? A look at minimum wage in the United States
The majority of Americans will spend this New Year’s Eve working. An estimated 25 million people—13% of the U.S. workforce—will clock in on Jan. 1, 2019, making it the largest New Year’s Day in history for the American worker.
As we enter a new year and continue to recover from the Great Recession, these statistics paint a grim picture for minimum wage workers across the country: In no state does a full-time worker earning minimum wage have an affordable one-bedroom apartment, according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition .
In only one state—Hawaii—can an adult with a child support a family of three on minimum wage. Nationally, it takes at least $22 an hour to do that. In most states, you need more than $15 an hour to make ends meet if you’re supporting another adult and child as well .
In nearly every state, you can’t afford rent and food on just minimum wage once you account for your local cost of living .
But as bleak as these facts may seem, they are also indicative of positive changes taking place in America today: People are challenging outdated and unfair systems that have kept them down for too long.
The fight for $15 has pushed many cities and states to adopt higher minimum wages than they would have otherwise—and those higher wages are having profound effects on the lives of millions of Americans who were previously locked out
How much is a Fair Day’s Wage?
In ancient Athens, the first democracies in the world, philosophers and historians like Plato and Aristotle debated what a fair day’s wage was. They determined that, based on the day-to-day subsistence of the majority, a living wage should be one obol, or a tenth of a day’s food. The concept of a living wage, or the amount needed to meet basic needs, has been hotly debated in America ever since.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the law that first established minimum wage, defined it as the “minimum amount necessary for employees to be able to maintain themselves adequately.” This translates to about $38 per hour in today’s dollars, which is far higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
A brief history of minimum wage in the United States
The history of minimum wage in the United States is as complicated as the country itself: Its first introduction was a radical step forward, but it has since been mired in controversy and stalled by political wrangling.
The Great Depression: the Great Divide and the Great Upheaval The Great Depression provided the impetus to introduce minimum wage, though it was initially only applicable to certain industries, like textiles and garments.
The Great Divide and the Great Upheaval The Great Depression provided the impetus to introduce minimum wage, though it was initially only applicable to certain industries, like textiles and garments.
The Great Divergence The Great Divergence After the introduction of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, minimum wage was no longer just a way to regulate industries where child labor was prevalent. It became a tool of social justice, providing a living wage for millions of workers across the country.
The Great Compromise The Great Compromise In 1974, the government introduced the Minimum Wage Study and Review Commission. Its purpose was to review the minimum wage, keeping in mind economic factors such as inflation and the employment levels of different industries. After a year of deliberation, the commission recommended an increase in the minimum wage from $2.90 an hour to $3.35 an hour.
Inflation and the Great Disruption Inflation and the Great Disruption The Great Disruption, or the collapse of the financial industry, closed the book on the Great Compromise. The federal government decided to freeze the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour in 1999, where it has remained ever since.
Minimum wage: The current state of play
While the federal minimum wage has been frozen at $7.25 an hour since 1999, the American people have been at the forefront of the fight for higher wages. In the past few years, many states have passed their own minimum wage laws, bringing the average wage up to $10.50 per hour for the first time since the Great Depression.
As the $15 movement continues to gain steam, many cities and states are passing laws to gradually increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour. Some laws, like California’s SB 3, are scheduled to take effect as soon as January 1, 2019.
Where you can earn a fair day’s wage
In order to earn a fair day’s wage, there are a few things to keep in mind. Ideally, you’ll find a job with benefits, such as health insurance and retirement savings plans. If you can work your way up to become a manager, you’ll be earning a fair day’s wage by leading others.
Finally, if you can start your own business or find a creative way to make money, you’ll be well on your way to earning a fair day’s wage.
It’s a good time to be a worker in America: With the $15 movement continuing to gain steam, workers across the country are standing up for their rights and demanding fair wages. $13 an hour isn’t a livable wage in every city, but it’s a good start. It’s time to push for $20 an hour, or $25 an hour—whatever it takes to provide for ourselves and our families.
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