Making Ends Meet on Minimum Wage

By Liz Jones

People who earn minimum wage in Washington state are about to get a raise.  

On New Year's Day, the rate goes up to nine dollars and nineteen cents. That’s a fifteen cent per hour increase.  Washington’s minimum wage is higher than any other state. But studies show it’s still far below the minimum cost of living here.

First, to get a sense of minimum wage jobs around Seattle, we recently checked the ads on Craigslist.

Motel 6 is looking for a maintenance and repair person.  Round Table Pizza’s hiring a dough roller. They say the job’s very physically demanding.
Dishwasher at a fast-paced restaurant, cleaning and packing frozen fish, a cocktail waitress - all these jobs pay 9 dollars and 19 cents an hour. Then there’s Mary Ann Campbell. She’s seeking an assistant at her horse stables near Woodinville.

Campbell: “They’re cleaning stalls and they’re handling horses and then they have to be able to shovel poop.”

That job also pays minimum wage. Campbell says she typically gets more than a hundred applicants for these jobs. They tend to be people who don’t rely on this income. They just love horses.  But many people who work low-income jobs heavily depend on the money to cover their living expenses. Like “The cost of housing, transportation, healthcare, childcare, taxes", according to Ben Henry with the Seattle-based non-profit, Alliance for a Just Society.

Its recent study shows a huge gap between the 9-dollar minimum wage and a “living wage”.  Henry says, in Washington , a person needs to earn about 15 dollars an hour to make ends meet. Double that if you’re a single parent with two kids.  But he says few jobs offer that pay, so many parents end up working two or three jobs.

Henry: “That means parents are working 80 hours a week, sometimes more just to pay rent, just to put food on the table. And that’s time spent away from kids, time spent away from their families.”

Henry says higher wages not only benefit workers, they also benefit businesses where those paychecks are spent.  Mary Ann Campbell, with the horse stable, says she’d love to pay more than minimum wage. But she says their profits are so low, she can’t afford more.

Campbell: “I’m the owner of the business. So if you sit down and track what I get paid, I get paid less than minimum wage.”

Campbell realizes hers isn’t the typical low-wage job. She does it for the experience, not the money. But years ago, when she was raising a son on her own, she says she never could’ve gotten by on so little.  A full-time minimum wage job in Washington pays about 19-thousand dollars a year.

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