In 1776 when we declared our nation’s independence and announced to the world that all men were created equal slavery was still an option for America’s employers but in 1865 or four score and nine years later we put an end to that and began paying all workers for their labor. And today, still another seven score and 6 years later workers can happily expect a minimum of $7.25 per hour for their labor. Not bad huh? From nothing to $7.25 in 148 years; that’s a raise from nothing, of 5 cents per hour per year! However, don’t forget that today’s employers no longer have to provide room and board for their employees like they did in the good old days of slavery. (not in favor of slavery, just making a point) That’s a savings for employers right? So slavery equaled no pay plus room and board (albeit, crappy room and board) while today’s’ workers enjoy a federal minimum pay of around $15,000 minus room and board. So how much of an advantage is that for today’s workers and high school graduates? Hmmm…let’s see if we can figure that out…
We’ll put you in one of the cheapest areas to live in the U.S: Fargo, North Dakota (oh boy!) where your minimum wage is a whopping $7.25/hr. That’s $15,080 dollars a year but of course you’ll have to pay taxes first before you get to bring that money home. You can expect to pay about $1,470 for FICA and SECA taxes and the North Dakota state tax. That will leave you with $13,609. The average rent in Fargo for a nice little 1 bedroom apartment will cost you about $650/month or $7,800 plus those pesky utilities like heat, water, and electricity so we’ll tack on another $2,700.
Now you have $3,109 left for fun and entertainment… or do you? I bet you’re probably going to want to watch television and use a cell phone and You do want the internet don’t you?! Let’s be conservative and say that all costs you $75 a month. That’s $900 for the year so now you’re down to $2,209 left but you are planning to eat aren’t you? You’ll need groceries and other supplies for your apartment too but if we just concentrate on food the USDA recommends $175-$200/month for food and groceries. That would cost a total of $2100 to $2400 for food and anyway you calculate it you are now officially broke and in debt and you haven’t even gotten around to transportation and figured in the cost of owning a car and paying for gas and repairs and we haven’t even mentioned entertainment yet.
You’re going to need another job even though you are already working full time! Or you’re going to have to live with someone who has a better paying job than you and who doesn’t need as much as you do. Or you are going to have to do without something. Of course there is always debt too but when you consider interest even debt is something that you have to buy.
So all in all, 7 score and 6 years after the end of slavery, our country will guarantee its citizens a wage for free workers that will place you above the national poverty line but unfortunately will not cover the price of living.
Today’s high school students need to know this. They need to be taught and they need to understand and they need to learn this sad fact more than they need to pass a basic skills exam. (Although they of course need those skills too)
Our society has given you the right to pursue your happiness. However, you have to provide the vehicle. Nothing comes easy and there are no guarantees. That is the price of student failure and all other lessons are for naught if this lesson is not acknowledged, fully understood and well learned!
And just to add some more perspective, in 1979 I began my first full time teaching job and was paid $10,000 per year. (that’s $5/hr by the way) That wasn’t a lot even then and when I went to apply for a rental at the local garden apartment complex I was turned away because I did not earn enough. Wow, I thought. I have a full time job in a public school and I can’t afford to live in that public’s town? Anyway, I managed… with a little help from my dad who let me use his car and paid for my car insurance and from a colleague who had a part time job as a realtor and helped me find an affordable apt. and even from the school board because they supplied health benefits along with my meager salary.
Today, with the help of an inflation calculator my $10,000 salary would be worth…
$10,000 of 1979 dollars would be worth: $31,545.74 in 2012 ($10,000 of 2012 dollars would be worth $3,170.00 in 1979)
That works out to be $15.16/hr in today’s dollars, which in my mind would be a realistic minimum wage to ask for in 2013.
What do you think?