If you make $7.25 an hour, unsurprisingly, it’s hard to pay the bills—and food tends to be one of the first things you sacrifice when money gets tight. Around one in seven American households are “food insecure,” meaning they can’t afford to buy enough groceries to stay healthy, even with the help of food stamps or free school lunches.
That would change if the federal minimum wage went up to $15. A recent report from The Century Foundation found that if the minimum wage incrementally increased, reaching $15 an hour by 2023, almost 1.2 million households would no longer be hungry.
A map shows which states face the most food insecurity now, and how that would change with a $15 minimum wage.
The researchers looked at nearly two decades of data from federal surveys that asked a series of increasingly bleak questions, such as whether someone worried that their food would run out before they could buy more or whether they’d gone a full day without eating because there wasn’t enough money.
In states where the minimum wage was slightly higher than the federal floor, there was more food security than in states with the minimum. The researchers used that finding to predict how an increase to $15 would improve food security.
The increase would most help families that occasionally face hunger now–people with jobs who can’t make ends meet. The poorest households, who face hunger on a regular basis, would see less direct impact, but might also benefit. If some families can stop relying on food stamps, more funding will be available for those who are most desperate.
The researchers also expect that the change would have cascading effects. “We can raise these wages for low- and moderate-income households and materially make them better off,” says author William Rodgers. “By doing that, they’re healthier, their children are healthier, that raises productivity, that raises the value of work.”
Rodgers thinks that a higher minimum wage could also prevent what he calls a “third surge” in income inequality. In the late 1980s, and early 2000s, income inequality grew dramatically, driven in part by decreases in social investments.
“We slowed down investments in education and training for human capital, and slowed down investments in social capital–libraries, community centers, infrastructure,” he says. “Getting the minimum wage to $15, and having cost of living increases each year, that’s one tool the federal government can use to strike back and minimize the chances that we get another surge in income inequality, particularly for the most vulnerable families in need.”
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