A statement in a recent article on raising the minimum wage disturbed me. [Banner, 1/3/14, front page]. The Chamber of Commerce director believes that most people in minimum wage jobs are not supporting families and that it is "much more common" for households to have a principal earner working full-time for higher than minimum wage, and a partner who takes a minimum wage part-time job for extra money for the family. That can’t be right, I thought. I wondered, isn’t it absolutely necessary for both people to work full-time to pay for housing, energy, groceries, medical care, clothing and other consumer goods? I didn’t even think about saving for retirement or helping a child pay for a post-secondary education. Perhaps the official was misquoted. Maybe I didn’t understand the relevance of what is "much more common" to the need for a higher the minimum wage.
I had to find out if my indignation was valid. Here is what I learned from the US Census bureau, and the US Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. "Ten percent of jobs in the economy had wages at or below the 10th percentile wage of $17,690 per year... The lowest paying occupations had median wages [1/2 higher, 1/2 lower] only slightly above this level. Most of the lowest paying occupations were related to food preparation and serving or personal care and service, including fast food cooks, dishwashers, shampooers, amusement and recreation attendants, cashiers, graders and sorters of agricultural products, childcare workers, and maids and housekeeping cleaners."
The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey published the following about Bennington County, in rounded numbers: 71 percent of families with school-age children under 18 had both parents working. 18 percent of the total labor force is in "service occupations." 11 percent of the labor force are in "arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services" occupations. Thus, 29 percent of the county work force is in the lowest paid occupations.
Last year, federal poverty guidelines for total household income were as follows, in dollars: one person =11,725; two =14,965; three =19,530; four = 23,550. Some 10,000 county households are families; 16 percent of them have income and benefits under $25,000.;11 percent of married couples with their own children under 18 are living below the poverty line; 46 percent of families with a female householder with children under 18, no husband present, are living below the poverty line.
The majority of Bennington County families have household incomes above $25,000. Why should we consider the minority of families who can only afford the necessities, or are barely able to feed their children because they are not earning a "living wage?" If families supported by workers in the lowest paid occupations were earning enough to live on and didn’t need the financial assistance provided by taxpayers, they would have more money to SPEND on goods and services, which would make a healthier economy for all businesses, including those that pay the lowest wages.