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Can You Live on the Minimum Wage in Your State?


A nifty new tool from The New York Times lets you enter your living expenses, including rent, utilities, food, healthcare, and debt, and figure out if you could get by on the minimum wage in your state. Spoiler alert: you probably can’t.

minimum wage 

(Photo Credit: Tax Credits/Flickr)

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour — $10.10 for federal workers, thanks to a recent executive order by President Obama. There’s also a bill that proposes to raise the minimum for all workers to $10.10, but that will require the support of Congress.

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In the meantime, 21 states and D.C. have raised their minimum wages higher than the federal level. Of course, because cost of living varies sharply between metro regions, a higher minimum wage isn’t the only thing you need to take into consideration when it comes to judging the financial health of the lowest-earning workers.

For example, if you live in Illinois, the minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. Enter that into the tool, and add $1200 a month in rent — well below the average for a two-bedroom apartment in many parts of the state. Before you can even select utilities or figure in your debt, you’re already down to $2,100 remaining — for the whole year.

Critics of the plan to raise the minimum wage argue that these jobs were never intended to turn into careers, but with the majority of new jobs being low-paying, it’s hard to argue that the person who serves our fast food should just raise his goals.

A real return to sustainable economic prosperity will probably require both a higher minimum wage, and more resources devoted to training people for jobs that pay more than the legally mandated minimum, whatever it might be.

Tell Us What You Think

Is the minimum wage a livable wage in your state? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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