At this point, we can safely say the “minimum wage” is misnamed. There’s no way someone can earn the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour–or even the slightly higher amounts 29 states require–and live a decent life. Not after housing, utilities, child care, and leaving aside something for emergencies, and savings.
A new report from the Alliance for a Just Society, a coalition of progressive nonprofits, says the average minimum wage worker needs to work an average of 93 hours a week to earn a living wage (there are 168 total hours in a week). In each state, the number is slightly different: In Virginia, they need to work 103.2 hours, and in Hawaii, 110.7 hours.
The living wage calculation is based on what the Alliance says it really costs to live in reasonable comfort–$16.97 on average across the country if a single adult is working a 40-hour week.
Three million people earn either exactly the minimum wage ($7.25) or something below it, according to government figures. The report says that’s most likely workers in fast food, restaurant, retail, child care workers–workers who service other workers–and women and people of color. They can’t “support themselves and their families, even working full-time,” the report says.
In 2014, the median wage among 3.2 million fast food workers was just $8.85 per hour. Almost 600,000 people worked in child care at a median wage of $9.48 per hour. And 4.5 million people worked in retail at a median of $10.29 per hour. None of these people can get near the living wage and must work significantly more than 40 hours a week.
“Whether it is finding a new outfit for a job interview, stopping at the drive-thru between jobs, going out for a family dinner, or dropping the kids off at child care on the way to work, workers in these occupations help us live our lives. And yet, these are the jobs that pay some of the lowest wages in the country,” the report says.