Stephanie Haynes, MPA Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs
Back when I first graduated from the University of Massachusetts – Boston (UMB), I thought for sure that I deserved and earned my way to a life of high salaries and comfortable living. To me, I earned the right to be paid above minimum wage and people who earned minimum wage just need to work harder. It wasn’t until I had to live a real life (i.e. one that was not supported by family) that I realized minimum-wage workers are hard workers and in many instances, they are working harder than us.
One of the things that I think drives this sort of thinking is the perception of who is and who is not ‘deserving’ in our society. Crippled by social biases, many people believe that if someone is making little money it is because they didn’t work hard enough to make more. But the truth is I know people who have worked hard all their lives yet they still make way less than they need to live. Livable minimum wages help address issues of poverty. They are not a handout; rather, they should be seen as setting the financial foundation down equally, so people can be self-reliant. That way people get the chance to always move forward.
Poverty comes in all different forms. To be mindful of that, we have found ways to try to measure poverty – Absolute Poverty and Relative Poverty. When it comes to Absolute Poverty, society agrees that this is when someone is barely able to secure even the most minimal of necessities (i.e.: clothes, a home, hygiene). Here, we try to consider human basic needs and, if you cannot secure those things for yourself or provide them to your family unit, you might be living in absolute poverty. Relative Poverty measures poverty a little differently. “In this case, poverty is defined as having incomes below a certain level relative to the median income in a country. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ( uses a relative measure, defining poverty as 50 percent of the median disposable income in a given country. The relative poverty standard then changes with median incomes (Weller, 2019)”. This means you are able to provide and maintain housing, food, and shelter but, compared to many others, you are deeply struggling.
Imagine, you have been saving to buy a home for the past 10-15 years with the goal of being able to move into a good neighborhood with a monthly mortgage of $1,000-$1,250. This is the American dream and you have a job, so maintaining this home on a $40,000 salary is all you will be doing. After taking out a mortgage, your annual take home salary has already been lowered by $12,000-$15,000 annually. You are left with $25,000, which has to cover your other necessities (food, transportation, utilities, credit cards). Additionally, you may have other bills that you must pay out of that salary. By the time you have finished paying your mandatory bills, you are left with a small pool of remaining disposable income and, as such, it becomes very difficult to move up without making some serious concessions. In the real world, a lot of people do not get to be paid $40k; for them, life is a constant struggle. How can you thrive under those conditions?
Raising the minimum wage would mean that families do not have to decide between paying bills, eating, securing other basic needs, or enjoying life. Even at a $15 minimum wage, individuals would only be making $28,800 which takes them only just above the poverty threshold. When you think about it that way, it begs the question: why are we making it so hard for people to have livable wages? In our journey to end poverty, we must consider using the minimum wage as a tool to close the equity gap.
Weller, C. E. (2019). Seventh lecture: Poverty, inequality and budgets. Retrieved from https://umb.umassonline.net/bbcswebdav/pid-3313944-dt-content-rid-26097425_1/courses/B2910-2382/LN, 7th Lecture, PUBADM G 602, Poverty and Inequality, Fall 2019.docx