Legislators keep poor virtuous, hold down minimum wage. Thanks.
A mid-sized combo meal at McDonald’s costs about five bucks. An Abe Lincoln can also get you two or three gallons of gasoline, a six-pack of cheap beer, a pound of bacon with a tube of Rolaids, six packs of bubblegum or a front row seat when discreetly palmed into the hand of an usher at a Las Vegas show.
You can probably still get a haircut somewhere for five bucks, but I would advise against it.
Five dollars, or to be more exact, $5.15, is also the hourly minimum wage in North Carolina.
It’s not a lot of money.
The NC minimum wage boils down to less than a dime a minute. It adds up to $206 a week, or $10,712 a year before taxes, based on a 40-hour workweek.
Can you live on ten and change a year? Let’s get inside the numbers.
A piece of your ten grand must go to a domicile. If you’re pulling the state minimum, chances are you’re a renter unless some banker on an ether binge approves you for a home loan. In Greensboro, you are probably paying no less than $350 a month for a place that has very little in common with Trump’s gold apartment in Manhattan (where, by the way, $350 a month wouldn’t get you a parking space). Net cost: $4,200 a year.
You’ve got to eat, but when you’re pulling in a half a sawbuck an hour you’re not going to be taking too many meals at restaurants that have silverware ‘— in fact, most of the things you’ll eat will probably be prepared at home in what passes for a kitchen in your crappy apartment. Figure $125 a month for groceries, which will buy a cartful or maybe two at any of the ultra-cheap supermarkets in town or maybe one good run through a Harris Teeter. That’s $1,500 a year.
Some monthly bills figure into the equation as well, though at $10,712 a year (which is just about a grand more than the federal poverty level for an individual, $9,570, and about two grand below the poverty level for a single mom, which stands at $12,830), you’ll want to keep these monthly expenditures to a minimum. Let’s say $50 a month for the phone and another $85 for power (thank God your apartment is so small). That’s $1,670 a year.
Now we’ve got some numbers. Let’s run ’em.
Added together all these necessities come to $7,370. The more heartless among you are probably saying, ‘“Hey, wait a minute. These poor bastards still have some money left.’” And you’d be right. Using these figures, the minimum wage earner still has more than three grand left to play with at the end of the year ($3,342, to be exact). That’s $278.50 a month. But hold the phone. We’ve left some things out.
We haven’t figured in clothing. This is not Rio and we do observe a certain standard of dress. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it’s got to cover your naughty parts. We left out cable television, because like it or not cable is a privilege and not a right. We left out all entertainment expenses, in fact, because the implied message here is that having a good time is for rich people. We left out travel expenses like gasoline, a car note and auto insurance (or even bus and cab fare). We left out cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products, light bulbs, pet food, parking tickets and postage stamps. We left out cigarettes and liquor, though many people in these circumstances could certainly use a drink and a smoke, and we left out extravagances like Christmas presents and birthday cards.
We also left out health insurance, but that was no mere oversight. People at this income level qualify for Medicaid.
And that’s a problem. When the NC House of Representatives decided last week to keep the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour, they gave tacit approval to companies to hire low-level employees who qualify for state aid. They say that with a minimum wage of $6.15 an hour, one dollar more than all of our neighboring states, we would be at a disadvantage when recruiting companies that promise jobs to our people.
But because these jobs pay little enough to qualify the earners for assistance, it seems to me they’re actually costing us money and also contributing to the growth of an underclass that is none too happy about working 40 hours a week and still being on the dole.
The federal minimum wage standard is in line with North Carolina’s at $5.15. But 17 states and also the District of Columbia have upped that wage in an area that encompasses 45 percent of the US population. So with the vote that killed the minimum wage raise, NC legislators have decided to keep us behind the curve.