Wisconsin has a state statute that says “Every wage paid or agreed to be paid by any employer to any employee … shall be not less than a living wage.” Last month, 100 workers filed a complaint with Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) administration that said the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour violated that statute, ThinkProgress reported.
Earlier this week, the Department of Workforce Development’s (DWD) Equal Rights Division Administrator Robert Rodriguez responded to the complaint. In a letter, Rodriguez said, “The Department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to complainants are not a living wage.”
A press release from the DWD said a review of the documents submitted in the complaint had been conducted and the department had found that:
“Most of the statements list wages that are in excess of the current minimum wage – as high as $15.07 an hour. Many of the statements referenced items that go beyond basic necessities; others cite receiving public aid or additional sources of income … Conversely, several studies that have been widely reported on point to significant job losses as a result of an increase in the minimum wage.”
Maybe the DWD doesn’t believe that $7.25 an hour isn’t a living wage because it didn’t actually talk to any of the workers making that who filed the complaint. The fact that complainants were receiving public aid shows that the current minimum wage isn’t enough on which to survive, so workers must seek assistance from the government.
Working a 40-hour week at $7.25 an hour results in an annual income of $15,080, which is just $3590 above the poverty line for an individual. Assuming that the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Madison is $846 a month, that adds up to $10,152 a year, leaving a minimum wage worker with less than $5,000 left of their annual income.
How exactly does the Walker administration justify their assertion that the current minimum wage is a “living” one, when an individual making $15,080 a year in Madison would have around $410 a month left after rent on which to live?
And that’s not taking into account that, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the average minimum wage worker is “in her early thirties, works full-time, and has a family to support.” If a minimum-wage worker is a single parent, he or she would be below the poverty threshold even after working a full 40-hour week. Not only does this put a burden on the worker, it puts a burden on the taxpayer as the worker would no doubt qualify for public assistance programs like SNAP (food stamps).
In fact, as ThinkProgress pointed out, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “calculates that a living wage for … Madison, for example, would have to be $21.17 an hour for a single parent.”
Dan Cantor, national director of the Working Families Party, told Salon in a statement:
“Everyone knows you cannot live on the minimum wage, and you cannot make ends meet on $290 a week … Governor Walker has just proven once again which side he’s on, and it’s not the side of working families in Wisconsin. Voters will remember this moment.”