What Life Is Like on Minimum Wage

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CHICAGO, IL - MAY 15:  Fast food workers and activists demonstrate outside McDonald's downtown flagship restaurant on May 15, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstration was one of several nationwide calling for wages of $15 per hour and better working conditions for fast food workers. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

CHICAGO, IL – MAY 15: Fast food workers and activists demonstrate outside McDonald’s downtown flagship restaurant on May 15, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstration was one of several nationwide calling for wages of $15 per hour and better working conditions for fast food workers. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Earning the minimum wage is often associated with “jobs” instead of “careers” — the teenager with an after school job, the college student with a part-time gig, or the worker who’s in a temporary position until he gets back on his feet. In the U.S., Pew Research reports that around 3 percent of workers earn at or below the minimum wage. This may not sound like a lot, but this translates into close to 3.6 million workers (not including salaried workers who may earn under the minimum wage).

With a Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, a full-time employee working 40 hours per week brings in just $290 per week before taxes. Each month, this same worker earns around $1,215 and each year, he or she earns right around $15,000.

In Washington State, the minimum wage is at its highest. A worker on a minimum wage income earns $9.32 per hour, $372 per week, around $1,550 per month, and around $19,000 annually. Again, this is before Social Security or other payroll deductions.

While many minimum wage workers — 24 percent in fact — are teenagers, and a large portion (64 percent), are part-time workers, there is still that group of workers out there using a minimum wage job to support themselves or themselves and an entire family of three, four, or even more people. What type of lifestyle can these workers afford?

PBS Newshour asked that question pertaining to two workers earning just above the minimum wage in Washington State. Both caring for their children and a family, one is employed at McDonald’s and another at Sea-Tac airport for Menzies Aviation as a baggage handler.

Both workers are on some form of public assistance. They receive a few hundred dollars for food and and maybe even housing, yet still struggle financially because — according to a Social Work expert from the University of Washington School — they would each need closer to $4,500 per month to thrive in the area where they live. This is around three times the income they are actually bringing in.

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