A report out telling us that the minimum wage for a single worker, unsupported by any other income, isn’t enough to rent a two bedroomed apartment in any part of the United States. OK – that rather leaves open the question of why the minimum wage for a single worker, unsupported by any other income, should be enough to rent a two bedroomed apartment in any part of the United States. Anyone got any ideas? Why that basic, minimal, wage below which it is illegal to offer your labour should be enough to afford that?
Even a $15/hour minimum wage would not allow a single parent to afford an apartment with a separate bedroom for their child or children in most of America (Arkansas has the lowest rents in the country, and even there you need to earn $13.88 to afford a two-bedroom apartment).
OK. But again, the important question here is, well, why should the minimum wage afford that?
Now, this is not the same as the question of whether everyone should have somewhere to live. Yes, in a rich nation that’s well along the way to being a right and even I would say that it’s something that should happen. But a two bedroom apartment for a single parent flipping burgers? Why should that be the determinant of whether the minimum wage is high enough or not?
The answer, in my book at least, is that if we do insist that everyone should have a home then we should be putting our hands into our pockets in order to enable everyone to afford a home. Not dumping those costs upon those who own businesses which is the first iteration of where the costs arrive with a high minimum wage. Or the second iteration, which is many more unemployed people.
And the thing is we do put our hands in our pockets via the tax and benefits systems. We increase wages through the EITC (some $80 billion a year or so) and we also cough up to pay rents (Section 8).
We’ve thus two questions, the first being why is that 2 bed apartment being used as the minimal definition of what all should get? And why is it the minimum wage which should be affording that level, rather than the welfare benefits system?