In all the debate over whether to cut food stamp subsidies, the strongest argument is whether the majority of Americans are being paid a living wage and can be self-sufficient.
In general, subsidies are determined by the federal government’s calculation of poverty. Trouble is, that rubric is more than 60 years old and based solely on the price of food. Today’s federal poverty level does not take into account child care, housing, transportation, taxes, health care needs or where one lives in this vast country.
To arrive at a standardized level of poverty, officials in the 1950s essentially tripled a family’s food budget, which they figured comprised about one-third of a family’s expenditures, estimating that would adequately cover other expenses.
And while food costs have dropped considerably since the 1950s, other costs have risen and new expenses, such as child care, have been added to most families’ budgets.
Rather than devise a new formula for estimating the federal poverty level, officials simply tie increases to the consumer price index.
A better tool to measure one’s livelihood is called the Self-Sufficiency Standard, devised by researchers including Diana Pierce of the Wider Opportunities for Women organization.
The tool estimates what it takes to live minimally, without any state or federal assistance. Its budgets do not include any money for savings, retirement, vacations, take-out or restaurant food, or entertainment.
The standard is used by schools and social agencies to help people understand what kind of job they need to be self-sufficient.
For a single individual in Allen County, a living wage is $7.99 an hour, or 74 cents an hour above the minimum wage. That covers monthly expenses including food $242, transportation $306, medical expenses $115, rent $426, and annual taxes of $2,828, and other lesser expenses.
Add one child, and the expenses more than double, requiring a living wage of $17.17 an hour.
Right there, many of the area’s local jobs do not pay enough for an individual to support a family of two. If two adults are working, their wage can be $15.94 an hour to adequately support one child.
The minimum wage in Kansas is $7.25 an hour, the same as the federal level. A full-time job at that level earns $15,080 a year.
For most jobs that require no education beyond high school, the pay is sub-standard for today’s families. Allen County has a 89.3 percent high school graduation rate.
According to the consumer research business Glass Door, the average salary for sales associates at Walmart is $8.85 an hour. A Sonic carhop begins at $6.01; its cooks get $7.63 an hour on a national average. At Burger King, a “team member” earns $7.61 an hour.
Because these jobs are rarely full time, annual income is in the neighborhood of $10,000, which begs the question if the country’s minimum wage should be increased.
To which most would answer, of course.
Until Walmart and its ilk and their powerful lobbyists convince Washington they will cut jobs if forced to pay employees more.
The argument against raising the minimum wage is another form of trickle down economics. If large corporations — which are now making record profits — can get by with paying substandard wages, they say, their savings will be passed on by expanding into other parts of the country and providing more jobs.
Don’t believe it.
Economic stability comes from having a strong middle class that is self-sufficient and has the means to purchase goods and services.
Give lower- and middle-income workers more money, and they will spend it on food and clothing.
Paying a living wage, by the way, also helps states keep their citizens away from Medicaid and food stamp rolls.
— Susan Lynn
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