Using data from the Pew Research Center, the Washington Post published a story analyzing the relative value of a $15 minimum wage across the U.S. This will almost certainly be used by critics to argue against implementing a universal $15 minimum wage as Clinton has already suggested in her presidential campaign.
The data shows the purchasing power of such a wage in largely rural areas such as those across the South and Midwest is greater than $15, rising as high as $20 in places like West Virginia. Major metropolitan areas such as New York City, D.C., Chicago, and Honolulu–the most expensive–experience lower purchasing power from raising the minimum wage with the real value of $15 ranging from $12 to $14.
The #FightFor15 campaign is not about creating a uniform national wage, but rather guaranteeing that workers have the means to meet their basic needs. It represents a general goal and an ambitious one considering the low wage thresholds set by the federal government and individual states. Unlike Clinton’s assertion that $15 is an appropriate minimum in some places, but not others, the better solution is to establish a national $15 floor and allow state and regional governments to increase it accordingly based on local costs of living.
Evidence shows that raising the minimum wage doesn’t hurt the economy and the reality is most people cannot maintain a decent standard of living on less than $15 per hour ($31,200 annually before taxes) for full-time work. Another story in the Washington Post showed the hourly wage needed to afford a “decent” 2-bedroom apartment based on Fair Market Rent, which is not necessarily reflective of real costs. This analysis found residents in few states could get by on less than $15 an hour. However, even where possible, it should not be our objective to force workers into a minimal standard of living. Housing is not the only large expense as childcare costs and student loan repayments can quickly equal the cost of a household’s monthly rent. This says nothing of one’s ability to save, afford health care, transportation, or even food. According to a CNN analysis, the bottom 30% of income earners spend $25,000 annually on basic needs, often requiring them to go into debt. We should support a higher standard of living for the lowest paid workers–whether they’re making $15 or more.