Pay Up! Recommendations

A living wage for even a single adult is considerably higher than the minimum wage in every state and in Washington, D.C., leaving millions of workers unable to make ends meet. Additionally, women and people of color are more likely to work in low-wage occupations and to earn low wages within those occupations. Ensuring that working families make ends meet will require a variety of tools, including:

Increase the federal minimum wage to a living wage to help workers across all industries. Wages from a full-time job should provide enough income for workers to make ends meet. With a living wage for a single adult exceeding $15 per hour in most states, the federal minimum wage (and state minimum wages) should reflect the true cost of living and set the wage floor at a level that ensures at least enough for a single adult to support herself.

Eliminate the tipped subminimum wage. Ensuring that all workers are covered by the same minimum wage would lift more workers out of poverty and put workers on a level playing field. This would put the responsibility on business owners to pay their workers’ wages, rather than relying on customers to make up the difference.

Support unions and collective bargaining. Union members earn higher wages than non-union members, and the gender wage gap is less for unionized workplaces than it is for those that are not unionized. In addition, unions put upward pressure on wages for all workers – even those whose workplaces are not unionized.

Collective bargaining can also help lower the cost of living through access to affordable health insurance and retirement plans, along with benefits like paid sick leave and paid family leave that guarantees workers are paid while they care for their own health and when they care for their families.

Establish work supports like paid sick days, and expand eligibility for the Family Medical Leave Act to more businesses and occupations. Paid sick leave is crucial to the well-being of all workers; it provides recovery time from illness rather than forcing one to come in sick or risk losing their job.

For parents with children, and especially single mothers who are more likely to be working a low-wage job and living paycheck to paycheck, the risk of losing that job to take care of a sick child is a heartbreaking dilemma.

Additionally, women without maternity leave are at risk of losing their jobs. For women earning less than a living wage, this can threaten their housing, health, and chance for them and their children to stay out
of poverty.

Strengthen and enforce equal opportunity statutes. Women and people of color continue to be more likely to earn low wages. Equal opportunity statutes like the Civil Rights Act and affirmative action were designed to help ensure that women and people of color are not discriminated against in the workplace and in other venues, helping give them a fair shot at earning a higher wage as well as preventing other discrimination.

However, enforcement of these policies isn’t consistent, leaving the statutes weak and ineffective. Strengthening and enforcing such statutes can help ensure that the statutes actually benefit women and people of color.

Invest in state and federal safety net programs. Until there are enough living wage jobs to go around, families will continue to make tough choices. Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should be strengthened, and state supports like earned income tax credits and child care assistance should be bolstered.

Conclusion

Across the country, current minimum wages, both state and federal, fall far short of a living wage. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 hour represents less than half of the average living wage for a single adult. For families with children, the shortfall is even greater.

Without a living wage, workers and their families must make tough decisions that have long-term consequences. They must either work hours in excess of full-time employment, or they must cut back on necessities. Both options have negative impacts on famiilies and communities but are consequences of an inadequate wage floor.

Even for a single adult, it is impossible to make ends meet at the current minimum wage without cutting back on essentials.

Minimum wage rates should reflect the cost of making ends meet, and at a minimum working full-time should ensure financial stability. Policymakers bear responsibility for establishing wage rates that reflect these standards.