As the debate over raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour continues to rage, it's worth asking how the people who earn it are coping now. The internet offers a wealth of survival tips for minimum wage workers, most from people who probably make well above the minimum. Plus, there is the first-person testimony of people who are surviving on the minimum wage, and are prepared to talk about it.
It's not a pretty picture.
Quite a few Americans are surviving on minimum wage. According to the latest statistics available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for 2012, about 3.6 million Americans earned the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or less.
Most are young people under age 25, who may or may not be able to rely on help from their families. However, their numbers include about 3 percent of all salaried workers aged 25 and above.
A minimum wage job adds up to a pre-tax income of $15,080, if the worker gets full-time hours and does not take time off. For most, that adds up to a real income of about $1,000 per month. That is above the official poverty line for a single person, but below it for a wage-earner with a child.
Here are some of tips for surviving on that amount of cash:
1) Move to a rural area.
It doesn't sound reasonable to relocate for a minimum wage job, but it could help, according to an article on WikiHow. A room or small apartment can be much cheaper in a rural area, say $100 to $200 per month.
It's better to choose a place where the climate is relatively mild, the article points out. The nationwide average heating bill is now about $200 per month.
And, it goes without saying that the best choice is an economically depressed area. The living is cheaper in regions where low-wage jobs are the norm.
According to an analysis prepared for The Huffington Post, a single, childless worker would need $10.20 an hour to fund the basic necessities of life in Hanson County, South Dakota, population 3,331, which has the cheapest living costs in the entire United States.
Unfortunately, South Dakota is not a warm-weather state.
All of the above means that a minimum wage worker can't make ends meet anywhere, but is likely to eat more regularly if housing costs are kept as low as possible.
This AOL Real Estate slideshow identifies 20 rural areas that combine great living and excellent job growth prospects. Some, like Watkinsville, GA, are in mild-winter territory.
If you're relocating, some states have a minimum wage above the federal minimum.
2) But not too rural...
A minimum wage employee needs to be within walking or bicycling distance from the job, in order to avoid the costs of car ownership. All of the above tips come from Wikihow, along with a helpful link to an article on surviving without home heating.
3) If you have a car, drop your car insurance.
This is illegal in most places, not to mention extremely risky, but it may be necessary. An estimated one in seven American drivers has allowed their car insurance to lapse due to economic pressures.
4) Sign up for food stamps.
A worker who is supporting a child on a minimum wage job is eligible for food stamps in most cases. The child will also get free Medicaid coverage, as a child living in poverty. The adult is now required by law to have health insurance, but assuming the employer does not offer coverage, the employee will get a substantial subsidy or even free coverage under Obamacare.
5) Eat a lot of beans and oatmeal.
This tip comes from a woman who works in customer service.
You might have thought that this diet, common among residents of third-world countries, was no longer prevalent in the United States, except among vegans. But you would be wrong.
6) Cancel your cable, internet and phone services.
The now-notorious sample budget that McDonald's prepared for the edification of its employees allocates $100 a month for cable and phone costs for a couple, each of whom earns a minimum wage salary.
Internet service and cell phone costs are not listed separately, implying that this line item actually covers the common "triple play" home service, plus cell phone costs.
The average monthly cost of that bundle of television, telephone and internet is $128. The average cell phone bill adds about $50.
Clearly, a minimum wage worker is better off canceling all of the above and allocating that $100 to something else, like beans and oatmeal.
7) Rely on payday loan services to cover critical bills.
In localities that do not restrict or outright ban them, payday loan services, located mostly in poor neighborhoods, extend short-term loans at an annualized percentage that is typically 391.34 percent.
Clearly, this can lead to a vicious cycle of epic proportions, so they are best avoided even at the risk of having the lights shut off.
Waiters and waitresses are paid much less than the minimum wage. See what you can do here.
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