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The fight for the $15 minimum wage

What it would mean for millions of children living in poverty in the United States

It is tough for adults to get by in America these days, but it is nearly impossible for kids. According to the National Center for Children and Poverty, approximately 16 million children in the United States live below the federal poverty line. That is roughly 22% of the population. Even more astonishing is how misleading that figure is. What the federal government considers to be the “poverty line” is obscenely low: $11,490 a year for a single person, $4,020 for each additional person. That means a single mother with one kid who works full time and makes $9.45 an hour is not considered “poor” by the federal government’s standards. Most single adults could not make it on that income, much less entire families. For this reason, the National Center for Children and Poverty considers the actual childhood poverty rate to be around a disgraceful 45%. The truth of the matter is that nearly half of all children in the United States are growing up poor.

With such high numbers it is not surprising that childhood poverty is everywhere, including here in Washington. Plagued by the nation’s most regressive taxation system, Washington State has failed to collect the needed revenue to eliminate childhood poverty, and it is not likely to do so anytime soon. State revenue collection is expected to grow between $2.5 billion and $2.8 billion above the 2013 – 2015 biennium totals. That is good news. The bad news is that the projected spending on current needs, including I-1351’s mandated class size reduction, is expected to total over $5 billion. That means we are still facing huge budgetary shortfalls.

It is for this reason that poor and working people have started to advocate for a variety of economic justice measure to improve their condition: stronger labor unions, enforced benefits, and of course raising the minimum wage. If the state is not going to make the type of investments needed to end poverty—and considering how it has tied its own hands when raising taxes, it is questionable if it is even able to—then working people are going to have to do it themselves. When it comes to ensuring that all children in Washington State are free from poverty, they have a long way to go.

The figures speak for themselves. In 2013, the Alliance for a Just Society released a report that calculated a livable wage for a single person living in Washington at $16.04 an hour at 40 hours a week. It is important to note that Seattle, which has the most progressive minimum wage law in the country, does not reach a guaranteed minimum wage for all workers until 2021. In that same year, the state minimum wage, barring some legislative action, would only be at $11.00 an hour. For families with children, the climb is even harder. The Alliance for a Just Society calculates a livable wage for a single parent with one child in 2013 at $22.12 an hour for 40 hours a week. Seattle’s livable wage ordinance will not reach that amount until 2034. In the same year, the state’s minimum wage will have just crept up to $14.97. The people who think a $15.00 minimum wage is too much have not looked at the math. If anything it is a huge compromise that still falls short of the need.

Naysayers against raising the minimum wage will point out that the overwhelming majority of people who make the minimum wage are not single parents, and they would be correct. Approximately 8% of the people earning a minimum wage in Washington are single parents, but that not the point. No just society would tolerate a child living in poverty, whether it is 8%, .08%, or .008%. One child, especially in a society as rich as ours, is too many. For this reason, the “Fight for $15!” is a good start for ending childhood poverty, but it is only a beginning. And, unfortunately, we have a long way to go.

Marco Rosaire Rossi, a graduate of the University for Peace in Costa Rica, is a resident of Olympia.

 

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