So much of the talk surrounding the jobs crisis focuses on unemployment, but a huge portion of those who do have jobs are barely clinging to a decent lifestyle. In 2010, one in five American adults worked for poverty-level wages, 4.4 million of whom earned wages at or below the federal minimum.
The infographic above, from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, makes painfully clear just how hard it is to make ends meet on these wages. Want a modest two-bedroom apartment in New York state for the standard 30 percent of your income? You're going to have to toil at a minimum-wage job for 136 hours a week. In California? One hundred thirty hours. How about in Texas, where one in 10 hourly workers make the minimum or less? Eighty-eight hours. Don't forget, there are only 168 hours in a week. That doesn't leave a whole lot of time for sleeping and eating.
This makes clear why there isn't a mass movement to raise the minimum wage—people are too busy working their asses off. Precious few states are considering a change; Massachusetts, for example, is currently in talks to raise its state minimum to $10 an hour (which would be the highest rate in the country). Mostly, though, the argument seems to be going backwards, what with Mitt Romney coming out publicly against raising the federal minimum wage and Newt Gingrich suggesting we fire unionized janitors in favor of part-time teenage workers. It's an essential fight to pick, especially now that almost half of the American workforce labors in low-wage, low-benefit jobs. These workers are "out there playing by the rules and working," Massachusetts state senator Marc Pacheco told reporters. "And they don’t have a wage base that’s allowing them to meet their needs.”
For an idea of what a fair minimum wage would look like, the NLIHC recalculated its two-bedroom, 30 percent of income premise for a normal, 40-hour work week (see full version [PDF]):
Images via National Low Income Housing Coalition