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Is a $15 Minimum Wage Enough?


April 7, 2022

As the inflation rate increases and more states reach or approach a $15 hourly minimum wage, worker advocates and attorneys are questioning whether it's time to seek a higher wage floor, even as the federal hourly rate isn't budging.

When it comes to raising the minimum wage, the magic number for at least a decade has been $15. 

The $15 threshold, which is more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, made more sense in 2012, said Natalie Shaak, who authored a December policy brief on minimum wage for the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health.

"At that point, that could have been a living wage," Shaak said. "It's also a little less scary than jumping from $7.25 to say, $25 an hour."

A decade after the campaign began, Fight for $15's organizers acknowledge that workers need an even higher wage floor.

Drexel's Shaak crunched the numbers and found that $15 isn't enough, given living costs such as housing, child care and food.

"Even in the lowest-cost-of-living state, which would be Mississippi, people are still not going to be able to live on $15 an hour," Shaak said.

In Mississippi, a person would still need to make $26.74 to pay for basic needs, according to the Drexel policy brief. In the most expensive areas, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., an adult with one child would need to make $38.57 and $39.41, respectively, the brief said.

Even those figures are "not taking into account people being able to save for an emergency, people being able to save to buy a house so they're no longer renting, people being able to develop any kind of wealth to pull themselves out of poverty," Shaak said.

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