Sunday, October 12, 2014

What IS a living wage in Wisconsin?

In Friday night's debate, Gov Walker was asked about his administration's decision that determined that $7.25 an hour was a living wage, and therefore not a reason to raise Wisconsin's minimum wage. What followed was evasions and word salad that would make Sarah Palin proud.
My point is, I think the state should be focused on helping people create jobs that are much greater than the minimum wage," replied Walker. "I was paid the minimum wage when I worked at McDonald's as a kid. I used that to expect to save up for money in college; I didn't expect that was going to be my lifetime's work. We've got to have opportunities for young people ... to go forward. But at the same time, we've got to make sure that people are living off that to support themselves and their families have jobs that pay far greater than that. The way that you do that is not by an arbitrary level of a state."
After I got through my immediate "WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT GIBBERISH?" response, it seems that Walker thinks that there shouldn't be a minimum wage at all, and that he somehow thinks adult Wisconsinites shouldn't have minimum-wage jobs at all. Well, that's a nice dream in Right-Wing Fantasyland, but it doesn't match reality in Wisconsin.

We got a glimpse of how many adults are in these low-wage jobs from a release by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) this week titled "Raise the Floor Wisconsin."
Poverty wage in 2013 = $11.36 per hour. Below this wage a worker cannot keep a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) out of poverty, even with full-time, year round work.

• 700,000 Wisconsin workers — 1 in 4 — worked in poverty-wage jobs in 2013.
• The median age of a poverty-wage worker in Wisconsin is 30 years old.
• Three fourths of Wisconsin’s poverty wage workers are white. But African American and Hispanic workers are much more likely to hold poverty wage jobs. While one-quarter of white workers earn poverty wages, 38 percent of black, and 42 percent of Hispanic workers do.
• Three times as many poverty-wage workers have no health insurance as other workers – 22 percent of poverty-wage workers had no health insurance in 2013; only 7 percent of higher-wage workers have no insurance.
Hey Scotty, do you think most of those 700,000 workers in Wisconsin don't want jobs that are above poverty level? And you've cut many of the protections and social services that would enable a low-wage worker to survive on such a small amount of pay (such as refusing to take Medicaid expansion that would have given Medicaid to workers that make up to 138% of the poverty line- an income of around $31,000 a year for a family of four).

So regardless of Walker's dog-whistle of low-wage jobs not being intended to be "my lifetime's work", for a whole lot of Wisconsinites, that IS their work today. This is especially true as wages for jobs have stagnated and declined in several professions compared to Walker's HS days in the '80s, if those jobs even exist at all, and it has turned people to have to take jobs in low-wage fields like retail. I noticed several adult-age workers at the registers and meat counters at my local HyVee this morning, and I bet your community's grocery store isn't very different. Whether you like that situation or not, this is the reality Gov Walker, and we need a governor who will deal with it instead of ignoring it by wishing it didn't happen.

We have a measure that one can use to find what a "living wage" is in Wisconsin. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has created a Living Wage Calculator, and has it for all 50 states and counties within every state. This calculation includes the costs for food, child and medical care, transportation, tax levels, and other everyday expenses. So we can click on the Wisconsin Living Wage page, and take a look to see what it might be for your neck of the woods in this state. I'll use my current town of Madison, and also compare with my uncle's second home in Vilas County, to see the differences there. And not surprisingly, it's a big difference based on your family situation, and for 2-parent families, I will assume both parents are working.

Living Wage Calculator, City of Madison
2 adults, no kids- $7.72
1 adult, no kids- $9.54
2 adults, 1 kid- $9.27
2 adults, 2 kids- $9.99
1 adult, 1 kids- $21.17
1 adult, 2 kids- $27.87

Living Wage Calculator, Vilas County
2 adult, no kids- $6.66
1 adult, no kids- $8.26
2 adults, 1 kid- $8.13
2 adults, 2 kids- $8.85
1 adult, 1 kid- $18.88
1 adult, 2 kids- $25.58

So the question then becomes what do we want as the standard that we base our living/minimum wage on? You probably can't go with the assumption of "adults without children", because as you can see, that's a major hit against Wisconsinites that are raising children. I would argue that the basis should be a "big-city family of 4", as a compromise between the extra burdens single parents have, and the lower cost of living that exists in rural Wisconsin. Plus, why should there be a wage penalty for living in a smaller community- they deserve high standards of pay and worker protections as well, don't they?

This makes Mary Burke's favoring of $10.10 an hour a lot closer to a reasonable minimum wage than Scott (Never Worked a Real Job Since Age 25) Walker's desire to keep it at $7.25. And there's a very legitimate argument that it should be higher than $10.10 out of sensitivity to the sizable amount of single parents that are in Wisconsin. At the very least, Scott Walker seems clueless to the reality of what a whole lot of everyday Wisconsinites have to go through just to make ends meet, and he is unfit for office as a result.

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