During the month of March, Women AdvaNCe is exploring the minimum wage and its effect on North Carolina women and families. We delve into a different aspect of the minimum wage each Wednesday. Today we look at what you can afford at $7.25 an hour, and how quality of life improves when NC women earn a living wage.
What does $7.25 an hour buy here in the Tarheel State? According to most research: not enough. This morning in Lumberton or Forest City or Asheville, a mom clocked out of an 8 hour overnight shift cleaning offices and retail space. She got home as her children woke up, and packed them off to school before lying down for some much-needed rest. In the afternoon, she cared for neighbors’ to covet a few extra dollars before returning to her shiftwork. She does this routine five days a week. She’s glad for work, but on Friday when her paycheck comes, it gets spent before she can even take it to the bank.
Almost 90,000 women make $7.25 an hour in North Carolina. These are the moms who clean all night, take your order at the drive-thru, and check you out at the grocery. These women work hard and take care of their families the best they can. But even the women who are lucky enough to work 40 hours a week never make ends meet.
MIT recently debuted a poverty calculator that helps figure the hourly rate needed to support a family in each state. For a single mother of two in North Carolina, the calculator adds $536 per month for food, $808 for childcare, and $710 for housing with numerous other costs of living. (The calculator drew these numbers from averages spent in each NC county, and compares them against what people earn.) It turns out that a North Carolinian mother of two needs to earn at least $2,600 a month to keep the lights on without outside help. Right now, a minimum wage earner working full time makes $1,250 a month– that’s a $1,300-plus shortfall.
So how do our minimum wage moms get by? Each month more than 1.7 million North Carolinians are able to eat because of food stamps, also called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. In 2013, lawmakers cut millions of dollars from that program, decreasing monthly grocery help for thousands of moms in need.
These moms also rely on Medicaid, the state health insurance for low income families. Although Medicaid covers many poor children, mothers who are working and are not pregnant are often ineligible for coverage since North Carolina chose not to expand Medicaid to reach our working poor.
Now let’s take the mom making $7.25 an hour and give her a raise. President Obama has called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour to help bridge the gap of workers in need. An NC mom working full-time at $10.10 an hour would earn $1,750 a month. Her monthly shortfall, according to the MIT calendar, would amount to a more manageable $850. This could be overcome by having a roommate, sharing some child care expenses, or relying modestly on SNAP benefits.
The woman making $10.10 an hour no longer faces an existence where she makes less than half of what she needs to get by. She might even be able to save a small amount for unexpected expenses or to enroll her children in sports. A higher minimum wage won’t solve all her problems, but she will likely feel less stressed and more healthy, and work more productively than when she earned a fraction of what she needed to survive.
According to data gathered by the Center for American Progress, it’s not just low-wage women whose lives would improve with a higher minimum wage. Our communities would feel the ripples of higher spending born of higher paychecks, and our state government would save money with decreased enrollment in social programs.
Researchers predict that increasing the minimum wage in NC would mean a $183 million decrease in government spending on food stamps—with nearly 130,000 fewer people enrolled. Increasing wages for our workers will most immediately benefit families, but will reduce our government overhead at a time when we need it most.
With the push to increase minimum wage comes a great deal of pushback from North Carolina politicians. NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis has even said that the minimum wage is a “dangerous idea,” and that he would be in favor letting the free market set employee pay. Obviously, I disagree. It’s time we place the cost of doing business squarely on businesses, and start requiring them to pay their employees a living wage– instead of relying on the state to pick up the slack.