Living wage

Some statistics:

  • The living wage level is usually the wage a full-time worker would need to earn to support a family above federal poverty line, ranging from 100% to 130% of the poverty measurement. The wage rates specified by living wage ordinances range from a low of $6.25 in Milwaukee to a high of $12 in Santa Cruz.
  • Wages for the bottom 10% of wage earners fell by 3.9% between 1979 and 1999.
  • In 1999, 26.8% of the workforce earned poverty-level wages, an increase from 23.7% in 1979.
  • privatization (of public sector jobs, based on a study in Chicago) led to compensation losses for entry level workers ranging from 25% to 46%
    • Since government agencies disproportionately hire (and advance) female and minority workers, these changes have meant the loss of relatively high-quality jobs for these workers.
    • Most of the living wage ‘victories’ have been through municipal laws, ‘ordinances.’

1.”Poverty Line” figures

Hourly wages based on the “2009 Poverty Guidelines” provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services follow (Campaigns have calculated their living wage using different family sizes here too, as well as different percentages of the poverty level, and poverty line increases slightly every year):

U.S. Census Bureau Poverty Thresholds, 2016
Size of Family Unit Poverty Threshold
One person (unrelated individual) $12,082
  Under age 65 12,331
  Age 65 or older 11,367
Two people 15,391
  Householder under age 65 15,952
  Householder age 65 or older 14,342
Three people 18,871
Four people 24,257
Five people 28,741
Six people 32,542
Seven people 36,998
Eight people 41,029
Nine people or more 49,177
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Weighted Average Poverty Thresholds, 2016.

For more info see

Family of four (one income earner in household)

  • $11.66 — 52 weeks at 40 hours (2080 hrs)
  • $12.13 — 50 weeks at 40 hours (given unpaid time off—2000 hrs)
  • $13.33 — 52 weeks at 35 hours (given “full time” is often less than 40 hrs—1820 hrs)
  • $13.86 — 50 weeks at 35 hours (given both possibilities—1750 hrs)

2. Food Stamp eligibility

In order to qualify for food stamps, the federal government sets two thresholds. First, your gross income cannot exceed 130% of the poverty line. Second, your net monthly income cannot exceed 100% of the poverty line.

Maximum wage to be eligible to receive food stamps (2003 data)

Family of 4 (130% of $20,650 = $26,845) Family of 3 (130% of $ 17,170 = $22,321)

Total hours worked Family of four Family of three
52 weeks at 40 hours $12.90 $10.73
50 weeks at 40 hours $13.42 $11.16
52 weeks at 35 hours $14.75 $12.26
50 weeks at 35 hours $15.34 $12.75

When calculating a living wage . . . (here’s a useful but imperfect tool)

Some budget items to consider:

  • Food (what kinds of food are affordable on a budget?)
  • Health care (insurance, doctors’ bills, medicine)
  • Clothing (kids and school)
  • Housing (rent or mortgage and all that goes with it)
  • Utilities (heating, electricity, water)
  • Transportation (gas, repairs, public transportation, insurance)
  • Education (school supplies, books, fees for after school, sports, music, art, tuition, etc.—this could be the individual, the children, etc.)
  • Child care (what to do when children are sick?)
  • Taxes (city, state, federal, property, etc.)
  • Telecommunications (oh yeah, the smart phone, bundle package, family plan. Or not)
  • unforseens (expenditures you weren’t counting on—what percentage per month?)
    • car accident, speeding ticket, car breaks down
    • kids sick—lost time at work
    • lost job
    • kids clogged plumbing with waterproof action figures
    • price of gasoline goes up .35 per gallon
    • price of heating fuel up .75
    • kids lose jackets, gloves
    • snow tires
    • ????
  • ‘luxuries’—television, cable/satellite service, dining out, entertainment/recreation, pets, music lessons, extracurricular activities for kids, vacations . . .
  • Debt–this may be included under other headings, but it’s good to keep in mind that those below the poverty line have debt that equals almost 1/4 of household income.