10 States Where the Minimum Wage Isn’t a Living Wage

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“The idea of a living wage is that workers and their families should be able to afford a basic, but decent, life style that is considered acceptable by society at its current level of economic development,” reads a 2011 report by the International Labour Organization, a U.N. agency. “Workers and their families should be able to live above the poverty level, and be able to participate in social and cultural life.”

The debate over a living wage in the United States arguably began around 1912, when various states began enacting minimum wage laws that protected women and children. Although the concept itself is fairly intuitive, actually pinning down what constitutes a living wage has proven to be an enormously difficult task. Not only is the definition of “basic, but decent” ultimately subjective, but the amount of money that someone needs to earn in order to meet the costs of living depends on a huge number of regional and personal factors, such as rent and personal health.

As the U.S. Supreme Court put it in 1923, when it rejected the legality of those nascent minimum wage requirements for women and children (Adkins v. Children’s Hospital):

“The standard furnished by the statute for guidance to the board is so vague as to be impossible of practical application with any reasonable degree of accuracy. What is sufficient to supply the necessary cost of living for a woman worker and maintain her good health and protect her morals is obviously not a precise or unvarying sum — not even approximately so.”

Obviously — or so some of the nation’s top thinkers argued in 1923. Fourteen years later, the Supreme Court reneged on its position.

In 1937, the Supreme Court changed its tune and upheld the constitutionality of a minimum wage law passed in Washington state (West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish). The court wrote:

“The exploitation of a class of workers who are in an unequal position with respect to bargaining power, and are thus relatively defenseless against the denial of a living wage, is not only detrimental to their health and wellbeing, but casts a direct burden for their support upon the community. What these workers lose in wages, the taxpayers are called upon to pay. The bare cost of living must be met. … The community is not bound to provide what is, in effect, a subsidy for unconscionable employers.”

The ruling helped pave the way for the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. The FLSA is the federal statute that prohibited child labor, established a maximum 44 hour per seven-day workweek, and enacted a national minimum wage. The power of Congress to regulate employment conditions was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1941 (United States v. Darby Lumber Co.), and minimum wage laws have pretty much been the undisputed ever since.

But the idea of a minimum wage and the idea of a living wage are not the same. As it exists, the minimum wage doesn’t actually address the quality of life concerns that are part of the definition of a living wage. Right now in the U.S., the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, with some states choosing to maintain higher minimum wages; by some definitions — remember, determining a living wage is largely a subjective calculation — this rate is actually below a living wage.

We’re going to take a look at 10 states where the minimum wage is well below the living wage — as calculated by Amy Glasmeier and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Keep in mind that the living wages calculated here are meant to only serve as a benchmark. The MIT Living Wage Calculator comes with this disclaimer: “Our tool is designed to provide a minimum estimate of the cost of living for low wage families. The estimates do not reflect a middle class standard of living. The realism of the estimates depend on the type of community under study. … As developed, the tool is meant to provide one perspective on the cost of living in America.”

It’s also worth pointing out that according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, not a single state in the U.S. has a minimum wage that is at or above the estimated living wage. North and South Dakota get honorable mentions for coming close (12 cents and 19 cents per hour away, respectively), as does Washington for having a state-level minimum wage of $8.44 per hour, one of the highest in the country, and just 22 cents shy of the state’s estimated cost of living.

florida

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/coc6/

1. Florida

MIT calculates that a living wage in Florida is $10.12 per hour for one adult, which is $2.33 per hour above the minimum wage of $7.79 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $19.21 per hour for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $21,042 for a single adult and $39,960 for a small family.

Connecticut

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kzirkel/

2. Connecticut
MIT calculates that a living wage in Connecticut is $10.68 per hour for one adult, which is $2.43 per hour above the state-level minimum wage of $8.25 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $20.07 per hour for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $22,205 for a single adult and $41,747 for a small family.

It’s worth pointing out that with a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and a living wage of $9.68 per hour, New Hampshire ties Connecticut for the state with the ninth highest living wage gap.

Delaware

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21639834@N05/

3. Delaware

MIT calculates that a living wage in Delaware is $10.42 per hour for one adult, which is $3.17 per hour above the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $19.44 per hour for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $21,666 for a single adult and $40,436 for a small family.

source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alainpicard/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alainpicard/

4. California

MIT calculates that a living wage in California is $11.20 per hour for one adult, which is $3.20 per hour above the minimum wage of $8 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $20.80 per hour for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $23,295 for a single adult and $43,269 for a small family.

Virginia Beach

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimbrickett/

5. Virginia

MIT calculates that a living wage in Virginia is $10.54 per hour for one adult, which is $3.29 per hour above the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of living wage of $19.49 for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $21,927 for a single adult and $40,543 for a small family.

Massachusetts

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sminor/

6. Massachusetts

MIT calculates that a living wage in Massachusetts is $11.31 per hour for one adult, which is $3.31 per hour above the minimum wage of $8 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $19.90 per hour for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $23,528 for a single adult and $41,382 for a small family.

New Jersey

Source : http://www.flickr.com/photos/noamg/

7. New Jersey

MIT calculates that a living wage in New Jersey is $11.13 per hour for one adult, which is $3.88 per hour above the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $19.82 per hour for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $23,150 for a single adult and $41,225 for a small family.

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vikramvetrivel/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vikramvetrivel/

8. New York

MIT calculates that a living wage in New York is $11.50 per hour for one adult, which is $4.25 per hour above the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $19.83 for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $23,929 for a single adult and $41,246 for a small family.

Maryland

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24842486@N07/

9. Maryland

MIT calculates that a living wage in Maryland is $11.79 per hour for one adult, which is $4.54 per hour above the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $21.04 per hour for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $24,515 for a single adult and $43,757 for a small family.

Hawaii

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/racketrx/

10. Hawaii

MIT calculates that a living wage in Hawaii is $12.51 per hour for one adult, which is $5.26 per hour above the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The tool calculates a living wage of $22.76 per hour for two adults and one child.

This works out to a required pre-tax annual income of $26,022 for a single adult and $47,331 for a small family.

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