Key Findings

The living wage for a single adult is $14.40 per hour. This reflects what is needed to meet basic needs and maintain some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead. The living wage for a single adult with two children is $25.82 per hour.

For workers saddled with debt, the wage to pay off that debt would be even greater than the calculated living wage. Students in Montana graduate with $27,475 in student loans,75 and the average credit card holder in the state has an outstanding debt of $4,565.76 Because the state has not expanded Medicaid, nearly 40,000 lower-income workers remain uninsured.77 Additionally, 7 percent of mortgages in the state are underwater.78

The minimum wage in Montana does not allow working families to make ends meet. The state’s 2013 minimum wage provided just over half of a living wage for a single adult and less than one-third of the living wage for a single adult with two children. Even the 2014 minimum wage of $7.90 falls well short of allowing workers to move beyond living paycheck-to-paycheck.

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Kate Sheridan – Missoula, MT

‘It’s ironic and frustrating that the reason I can’t pay off my loans is because I can’t find a job that uses the degree that I went to school for in the first place.’

Personal Testimony: Kate Sheridan

I grew up in Oregon but I’ve lived in Missoula, Mont., for about four years. I work about 30 hours a week as a barista in a local coffee shop, making $10 an hour, plus some tips.

It’s frustrating to be working a food service job, especially after earning a master’s degree in environmental studies and sustainable food and agricultural studies from the University of Montana. I want to be doing the work that my graduate program trained me to do, but those jobs don’t seem to be out there.

I feel like I’m in a dead end, barely getting by and working a job that I didn’t need to go to college and grad school to do. I graduated undergrad with about $15,000 in loans. I paid off about $4,000 of that debt through participating in the AmeriCorps for two years, but then I went to graduate school, upping my debt load to $35,000.

Right now, without a good-paying job, I can’t afford to make any payments on my debt, but I know I’m running out of time for income-based repayment.

During grad school, I rationalized my debt. Since I didn’t work full-time, I ended up putting some extra costs on my credit card. Each semester I had to figure out how to take out more loans to pay off my expenses. Now I’m also about $3,000 in debt on my credit card.

I feel stuck. I’ve been looking at a variety of jobs, all over the country, but it’s now been a year without any luck. I’m passionate about working on sustainable food systems, but I’m starting to feel like there’s nothing available. It’s ironic and frustrating that the reason I can’t pay off my loans is because I can’t find a job that uses the degree that I went to school for in the first place.

It’s stressful to have the burden of debt just sitting there. I have no idea if or when I’ll be able to pay it off, and it’s impacting all parts of my life.

When I was in high school, my counselors and family always told me, “you have to go to college so that you don’t end up flipping burgers at McDonald’s.” I’m not flipping burgers, but I do feel frustrated. I was a valedictorian in high school; I’ve always been driven and was excited about college. Now I feel like I’ve hit a dead end, and wish I could have the job security to make plans for my future instead of just living day to day.

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Montana State Report

Click to download PDF.

National Report

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