Sunday’s Minimum Wage Discussion

When bills hit at the same time, there is no cushion. After paying his dad $150 in rent, the child-care bill, $55 for his cellphone and $26 for diapers, he had $20 left last month. He gave that to Creek.

“I wouldn’t tell her it was my last $20,” Brown said. “I gave it to her so she could get to work and get something to eat. As long as they eat first, I’m fine with it.”

When things like that happen, he said, he’ll try to make it through the day on a $1 bag of chips or some cookies or, if he has $3, a chicken sandwich, some fries and sweet tea at McDonald’s.

Yesterday, The Washington Post told the story of a young couple with a daughter trying to scrape by on minimum wage jobs (the girlfriend used to make minimum wage at McDonald’s but now earns $9 an hour after she received a raise at another job she found at a food court—she says she definitely feels the difference in pay. The boyfriend earns $7.25 at a Family Dollar store.)

Also published yesterday were editorials for and against raising the minimum wage—Bloomberg is pro, while USA Today is against. But both editorials agree that at the very least, the minimum wage should be tied to inflation (USA Today: “In the current low inflation environment, $7.25 would have only grown to $7.76 as of last year. An automatic inflation adjustment would also prevent the minimum wage from being held hostage to other political goals.”) I think we can also agree that nobody should have to get through a day on a $1 bag of chips.

Photo: goodiesfirst


37 Comments / Post A Comment

Sallymander (#3,159)

So of course this is speculation, but it seems from their situation (the boyfriend dropping out of school suddenly) that they did not plan ahead to have this baby. I’m not as Liberal with a capital L as some of the commenters here seem to be, but family planning and contraception are a worthwhile social investment if there ever was one.

These young people have several strong advantages despite being in lean times: they are both employed (although the article did say that the father didn’t quite have full-time hours), have supportive family members, have ambition and optimism, are devoted to each other and to their child, and the woman’s employer sounds very generous as well. The child is the main thing here that could put all of that at risk; she will need a lot of money, time, and energy over the next few years of her life that will weaken their already precarious financial situation, limit their career and education options, and perhaps put a strain on their relationship too.

To me this story in particular really isn’t a minimum wage issue. They wouldn’t be working these minimum wage jobs had they not had to cope with having a child.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@Sallymander Also the dude is paying too much for his cell phone. Someone tell him! He probably doesn’t know.

hallelujah (#802)

@Sallymander Yeah, birth control fails pretty often. Assuming they were too stupid or irresponsible for contraception is offensive, patronizing, etc. Also, when you have to pay month by month for a phone from MetroPCS or Boost or whatever, $55 is middle of the road. Believe it or not, he probably *does* know it’s a lot of money, but has limited other options. But thank you for your insight that poor people of color are probably idiots.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@hallelujah Hur hur, aren’t you a clever and brave defender of The Coloreds. Read my comment again, I said family planning/contraception should be a SOCIAL investment; i.e. available to the public and paid for by the public.

I have no idea why you think that saying that the price of a service is expensive is a personal attack made on the person purchasing the service (and moreover, that the attack was made because said purchaser is both poor and “of color”). Maybe you have never been like, “WHOA you pay only $X for service Y? Mine costs $(X + 20)!”, but obviously that is because you are so much smarter and better informed than us nasty, ignorant racists.

City_Dater (#565)


You know, even people who aren’t working minimum wage jobs have a very hard time making ends meet after paying for child care. It’s not so much about family planning — your assumption that these young people didn’t know they didn’t have to have their daughter is a little obnoxious — as about how little help is available to working parents at all income levels.

EM (#1,012)

@hallelujah @Sallymander I don’t think it sounded at all like the first commenter was implying they were too stupid or irresponsible for birth control. The most reliable form of birth control– a hormonal IUD– is prohibitively expensive for a lot of people. Given that many states have slashed funding for Planned Parenthood, one of the few places to access lower-cost contraceptives, and that there is very little comprehensive sex ed in the US, it’s fair to say that pretty much no one is well supported in preventing unplanned pregnancy. It doesn’t matter how smart or well-informed you are if there are no abortion clinics, no affordable contraceptive options, no accessible sexual and reproductive health services, etc in your area. Sex ed and family planning are social, economic and public health issue and it’s bad policy to make it into an individual responsibility– that’s what I thought was meant by the first poster saying it should be a “social investment.”

Also Quebec has $7-a-day childcare; everyone needs to get on that!

Sallymander (#3,159)

@City_Dater Look, I acknowledged that my interpretation of their situation was speculation (as is yours), but the circumstances indicate that they weren’t actively looking to have a child.

So obviously while it’s possible to choose definitely not to have a child (abstinence, blah blah), of course even with the most comprehensive of publicly available family planning programs some family somewhere will likely still end up having a kid. The question is, can THE MAJORITY of people who realize they can’t afford to have children manage not to do so? Right now, no. Contraception and related medical services are expensive. Education about family planning is poor at best. That statement is not a judgment about people who forgo contraception for whatever reason, have an imperfect understanding of their options, or who used contraception that failed. It’s simply an observation that on a population-wide level, cases where people have to support an entire family on very low-wage jobs can be reduced when they have better control over when to have children.

By the way, I don’t disagree that childcare is expensive for any family. But childcare for all families was not a topic this article discussed at all.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@Michelle Thank you; you said exactly what I was trying to get at.

hallelujah (#802)

@Sallymander So the social investment in family planning you bring up is completely unrelated to your speculation that the pregnancy was unplanned? Sure thing. And seriously, you really don’t think “He probably doesn’t know!” is patronizing? Poor people don’t compare the costs of goods and services? Maybe you’re not racist! Maybe you’re just classist, and nasty. Your award is in the mail.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@hallelujah I assume that when somebody is paying more for something for which there is a better price available, they would prefer the lower price were a friend to tip them off to it. The fact that they’re not already paying the lower price implies to me that they “probably” (not “certainly”) don’t know it’s available.

For example, I would be paying a higher rent now had my friend not alerted me to a better lease available. Clearly my friend is a patronizing jerk who assumed I was too stupid to do my own research and find the best available rent myself. Also, I happen to be a woman. Therefore my friend also hates women. I’ll go ahead and put his award in the mail too.

r&rkd (#1,657)

Is there a way to get service for a lot less than $55? I’m paying $40 and could use a break.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@r&rkd For a monthly plan, $40 is about as low as they come unfortunately. If you’ve been a customer for a while, you can call and negotiate your rate (I was at $33 with T-Mobile for a while before switching to a family plan when I got married). In the past I have cancelled cell phone service all together, but depending on your work/personal needs that may not be feasible. But don’t rule out prepaid phones; they might actually be a better deal depending on your individual usage. I just felt for someone down to his last $20, even the $15 savings would be worth something.

r&rkd (#1,657)

Ah, well, at least I know I’m not missing anything!

@Sallymander So many people, of all age groups and socio-econimic classes find themselves in this situation i.e an unplanned pregnancy. Minimum wage should allow these people to deal with this situation and properly take care of themselves and their daughter. So whether or not they have a child is irrelevant. There are plenty of people who purposely have children and aren’t able to make ends meet on minimum wage.

@r&rkd Virgin Mobile! I pay $27.22 a month ($25 monthly plan plus taxes/fees).

They didn’t mention how many lattes those two drink but I bet if they cut them out they’d save a boatload!

megsy (#1,565)

@Michelle Quebec has $7 a daycare if you manage to luck out and get a spot… the waiting list for spots far exceeds what is actually available for families.

chic noir (#713)

@Sallymander hey hey hey, as a “coloured”, I ask that you please be respectful.

chic noir (#713)

@Michelle wow 7 bucks a day is awesome. Here, a newborn can run you about 800 bucks per month. Then when you add in the mother’s transportation,office clothes and out of pocket expenses, it really isn’t a net gain for most women to work after having a child unless they are high earners or need the health insurance.

To be honest with you guys, if you didn’t already know, I’m Black(surprise:) and I’m from working class roots. I grew up in a neighborhood that was primary working class and some people needing government assistance. The bottom line is this, the young and even middle aged mothers who were able to do well almost always had a strong network of family support. Instead of paying a daycare center 500-800 to babysit, they had a retired relative or homemaker relative who would watch their kid for like 200 dollars sometimes free and maybe another relative living in house to help out.Then it was a LPN or RN program for 2-4 years for a certificate or degree that would deliver you str8 unto a job.

chic noir (#713)

@chic noir ^^^ All of that was to say that unless you are wealthy, having a child is becoming just another luxury product. Being married, over 25, debt free(student loan,medical or even credit) and having decent waged jobs with adequate health are just isn’t possible for everyone right now. I really don’t think two people wanting one child should be shamed. Besides, in many cultures children are a form of insurance esp for poor people.

I have no problem paying more taxes for universal healthcare, preschool, nutritious school lunches, daycare etc…

@Sallymander Yes! Having children should not be a luxury reserved for the wealthy. The fight for reproductive rights includes the right to HAVE children and take care of them.

Megano! (#124)

Minimum wage in Ontario is over $10 now, and people don’t seem to have trouble paying it.

megsy (#1,565)

@Megano! Canada is more expensive than the U.S.

TDF@twitter (#3,336)

@Megano! Are you serious? Labour hours have been slashed hugely since the minimum wage went up. It’s increasingly difficult to find a 37.5h/workweek at McDonalds or Starbucks. Employers will schedule a 8 hour shift and send staff home after 3.

Also the middle wage has stagnated, so people who were doing okay at $11 an hour in semi-skilled work in 2001 are still making $11 an hour and coping with increased rent, utilities, grocery bills, etc.

The ‘if they didn’t have a CHILD, they’d be richer’ argument is totally ridiculous. So…only people working above minimum wage jobs should be able to have children? THE POINT IS THAT THE MINIMUM WAGE SHOULD ALLOW THESE PEOPLE TO BE ABLE TO AFFORD A CHILD. Talk about missing it and derailing the conversation.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@Jake Reinhardt I assure you, I did not miss the point. My exact contention was that phrasing the question as you did, “the minimum wage should allow these people to be able to afford a child”, is putting the cart before the horse.

Assuming that the minimum wage was $9/hour, and they were both able to get full-time work, perhaps we can speculate that they would then be able to cover their living expenses and their daughter’s. Fine. Would they then be able to afford to have another child? What about two more children? (Let’s say for the sake of argument that they would want to have two more children if they had unlimited resources.) Probably not; $9/hour would be insufficient to support three children and two adults. Is that fair? No. People making more money than them will find it more affordable to have more children. That is a fact that will remain constant no matter what the minimum wage is.

I’m not saying that there’s not a legitimate discussion to be had about raising the minimum wage. But at every wage level, couples will have to face decisions about how many children (if any) they can afford, regardless of what they would desire in a perfect world. If all couples were able to make this decision and execute it perfectly, they would gain a lot of agency over their economic futures. The point is that many couples, EVEN IF this is not the case with the couple in the article, make that decision but are unable to stick to it due to circumstances beyond their control, such as not having access to affordable contraception. Because that is so frequently the case with families who have to adopt ad hoc solutions (eg. dropping out of school and taking a minimum wage job) to make ends meet, my point was relevant to this conversation. It’s certainly not the only one that warrants discussion, of course.

By the way, I don’t want to get too personal here, but lest you guys think I’m being all “them, them, them” about this, I just want to say the reason why I’m being so vocal here is because this struck very close to home. I have been in this situation. I’m not just saying a lot of words because I’m an insane person.

@Sallymander OK on the one hand, you’re right that having a child should not force you to completely derail your life, though in most civilized countries the way they deal with this problem is by making CHILD CARE a social responsibility, not contraception as you suggest above. I think that is a legitimate aspect of the story to point out, though it’s really a background question since the focus is on the minimum wage.

That said, two able-bodied and seemingly hardworking young adults, working two basically full time jobs, should be able to afford to raise one (1) child while living a modest lifestyle in the world’s 6th or 7th wealthiest country. I think it’s fair to take that as a given. A generation or two ago this would not even be a debatable question — and labor productivity, meaning the amount of economic value produced by workers like Brown and Creek, has nearly quadrupled in that time!

Sallymander (#3,159)

@stuffisthings Look, I even kind of agree with you. Barring exceptional circumstances, one should be an affordable number of children for people to have. But that’s still not really the point. Who decides how many children is an “appropriate” number that ought to be supportable by the minimum wage? It’s not off topic to point out a related policy issue that also has to do with the number of children people end up having.

The responses I’m seeing are kind of suggesting to me that the only acceptable comment to make on the article would have been to say “Yep, this definitively proves that $9/hour is the right amount for the minimum wage; no further comments.”

Sallymander (#3,159)

@stuffisthings I promise I’m not just trying to throw back everything you say in your face just for the sake of it, but I would like to point out that your point about labor productivity is also somewhat misleading. Many minimum wage jobs such as cashiering have not seen significant productivity gains in the last few decades (although average labor productivity over all jobs has seen significant gains). There’s still an argument to be made that the higher value of the average man-hour should also move the minimum wage, but the argument is significantly weaker than if you were to (falsely) assert that minimum-wage workers have themselves become significantly more productive.

@Sallymander Actually more gains from IT-induced productivity have gone to “low skill” occupations than to, say, office work. The bar code scanner turned supermarket cashiers from a semi-skilled, relatively highly paid “pink collar” job to the minimum wage drudgery we know today.

Likewise, a minimum-wage perma-temp in a modern Amazon or Wal-Mart distribution warehouse is shifting far more product far more efficiently than his unionized, insured, reasonably-paid grandfather would have in his day. The gains to “low skill” production workers have been even more dramatic.

Per your other point, it’s not so much talking about how many kids the minimum wage should support (or not) or whether people who can only get minimum wage should have kids (or not). The fact that two hardworking young people earning minimum wage cannot support one child in a reasonable fashion is simply a piece of evidence that the minimum wage is too low — that’s all.

ETA: Just checked, labor productivity in the retail trade sector as a whole has juuust about doubled since 1987. I’m guessing Dollar General is a NAICS 4529 establishment which as a group have seen a very robust 6% average annual rise in labor productivity since 1987. 1987 minimum wage was $6.66 in today’s dollars which means Brown should be making $28 an hour if his wage had kept pace with productivity growth.

Sallymander (#3,159)

@stuffisthings Okay, I was getting ready to reply in earnest to what you’re saying about wages and productivity, but after reading this thread, it’s clear that no one here is interested in having a discussion about anything; you all are interested in attacking me personally. In a single thread I’ve been called racist, obnoxious, offensive, patronizing, nasty, and classist (am I missing anything?) simply for not swallowing whole the premise of this article, and even the more civil responses have been unbelievably arrogant.

So go ahead, keep making quips about lattes while others pat you on the back for your brilliance. I’m checking myself out of The Billfold because what I thought was a cross-cultural personal finance blog is just another Internet clique.

This reads like the first 5 pages of the screenplay for a Do The Right Thing remake set in 2013.

AitchBee (#3,001)

Meanwhile, in the WP comment section, this charming glimpse of unfiltered racism: “What this young able bodied young man needs to do is get more than one job. Its that simple. Oh but wait…..he does not want to work more than one job. Won’t be any time to go to the club, get those expensive jordans….etc.”

Nat (#3,101)

And this: “he might also consider fixing lunches at home rather than buying them. its saved me a bunch of money over the years.”

Yes, you’ve figured it all out for him. If only he could pack a lunch.

@Nat They should also turn their heating down by 2 degrees and turn off the lights when they leave the room.

What, no comments about how lentils are cheap? Kudos.

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