According to Cornell University’s explanation of minimum wage, it was created as a way to “create a minimum standard of living to protect the health and well-being of employees.” By this definition, anyone working for minimum wage should be able to afford a standard of living. However, the United States’ standard of living is quite high compared to that of other countries. According to the Pew Research Center, the poverty line in the United States for a family of four was $23,021 in 2011. Assuming that, out of a family of four, two are working adults, it would take them each working nearly 1,600 hours at the national minimum wage of $7.25. That computes to 66 24-hour work days, or 200 8-hour days per person in the household. Keep in mind that a family of four can be above the poverty line with two adults working 8-hour days not including weekends or holidays. If only one person in the household had a job at minimum wage, they would be able to live above the poverty line if they worked 397 days per year, which would be fine if there were 397 days in a year.
Things are slightly different for the state of Iowa itself. The poverty line in Iowa for a family of four in 2019 is $25,750. If we use the same format of two people being adults with jobs, living above the poverty line would require both adults working 1,775 hours, or 222 8-hour days each. Once again, this does not include weekends or holidays. While this seems achievable at the current minimum wage, there are other factors to consider that make living minimum wage more expensive. Anyone that has wages within the 25 percent lowest percentile of wages, such as minimum wage, don’t have the opportunity for health insurance as often as those being paid more. Statistics from the United States’ Dept. of Labor Statistics reveal that those being paid less are only offered health insurance benefits by their employer 39 percent of the time. In addition, they are offered dental benefits 18 percent of the time and vision benefits a mere 10 percent of the time. Therefore, having a minimum wage job can cause the cost of living to be even higher, as medical issues may have to be treated out-of-pocket.
The need for medical care can even be exacerbated by poverty due to the price of food. A study at Harvard found that buying and eating healthy foods costs on average $1.50 more per day than buying and eating cheap “junk food.” A study by the American Diabetes Association even shows a correlation between poverty and obesity that “cannot be ignored.”
So what should be done about the minimum wage to truly allow individuals to earn the “minimum standard of living?” In the past, many individuals have advocated for a new minimum wage of $15 an hour. However, I believe the solution is not to raise the national minimum wage, but each state's minimum wage. For example, California’s minimum wage is currently $11/hour. Upon a quick search on apartments.com, a studio apartment in San Francisco can cost, at a minimum, $950 per month. At $11/hour, an individual in San Francisco would have to work roughly 86 hours per month, or 21 hours per week. That would mean that at least half of that person’s monthly check would go just toward rent for a studio apartment. If the state of California instead only offered the national minimum wage, it would be impossible to live in San Francisco at all. That is why states need to be responsible for their minimum wage, rather than establishing a national minimum wage with the “option” to offer a higher one.