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08- Fear and the Wage State

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I was 33 when I stopped remembering the price of every item I bought. 

My college roommate went to a top-tier graduate school, married a man from means, and consistently made twice my salary. She was about the same age when she felt financially secure enough to stop remembering too. When the median savings account for those under 35 is $1580, for those between 35 and 44 is $5,000, I don’t think our feelings of insecurity were unusual.

The federal minimum wage created under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) hasn’t changed since July 24, 2009 when it was increased to $7.25 per hour from $6.55. Since that time, the Consumer Price Index, the change in urban prices for a basic basket of consumer goods, has gone up 13.1%. 

In response, 29 states have instituted minimum wage laws that surpass the federal, 14 have matched it and two more, Georgia and Wyoming, have instituted $5.15 minimums to protect workers not covered by FLSA. Only five states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina—have made no changes at all. And while the increases help, they do not fully address the financial insecurity that so many of us feel. 

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, created by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier, has been used since it’s inception in 2004 to account for costs of living beyond the basic food budget of the federal poverty threshold. It includes the “minimum food, childcare, health insurance, housing, transportation, and other basic necessities (e.g. clothing, personal care items, etc.)” required by family size and location. 

In my own experience, I felt financial security when I had money set aside for emergencies and retirement, paying off debt, basic entertainment and travel. And addressing those needs, I was able to feel a sense of personal freedom. Although it can be hard to reach that level through trial and error alone, I’ve learned and collected more than a few tips on how to reach financial security.

For example, a median-income 24-year-old college graduate makes about $21.63/hr.  If you shave off 40% to account for general saving (entertainment, gifts, holiday travel), emergency saving, retirement, and (college) debt—not accounted for in Glasmeier’s calculator, you’re left with $12.98/hr. That’s not a living wage in California or Massachusetts and just barely one in Vermont and Washington. 50% of 24-year-old college grads are likely to be even less secure. 

Likewise, the hourly wage for a median-income 34-year-old college graduate is $25.48. In a family of three (2 working, median-income adults and one child), if we shave off 45% to account for all of the above and the child’s college savings, then they are left with an hourly wage of $14.01. And again, 50% of others in that situation are likely to be worse off. 

Even in states with the highest minimum wage, the gap between the minimum wage, living and secure wages are significant:

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In the new economy, financial fear and insecurity plague people at many levels. It’s important to remember that State legislatures have the power to make their minimum wages provide living and even secure wages for workers. 

Who are you representatives and where do they stand on the issue? Post the information below.