Thursday, May 10, 2012
What minimum wage buys, then and now
The federal minimum wage was first set in 1938, at 25 cents an hour. Here's a decade-by-decade look, starting in 1950, at the buying power of minimum wage
Often looked to as a model era, the 1950s may have been nearly as picture-perfect as "Leave it to Beaver" seemed to suggest -- minimum wage workers could pay rent for a month for less than a week and a half of full-time work -- or catch Disney's "Cinderella" for just over a half-hour of labor.
Minimum wage: $0.75 per hour
•Gas: $0.27 or 22 minutes
•Movie ticket: $0.48 or 38 minutes
•Rent: $42 or 56 hours
The beginning of the Reagan era marked the end of even the semi-feasibility of paying the median rent on a single minimum-wage income. A minimum-wage worker could still pay rent with just under two weeks of work (double the recommended ratio). Of course, if you lived in a more-affordable area, you'd be in better shape. In Mississippi, for example, you'd have to put in only 58 hours of work to pay the median rent.
Minimum wage: $3.10 per hour
•Gas: $1.25 or 24 minutes
•Movie ticket: $2.60 or 50 minutes
•Rent: $243 or 78 hours
Though the housing crash actually made rent more affordable, minimum-wage workers still had to put in 109 hours of work (or more than 60% of monthly income) in 2010. Of course, in cities like New York, the numbers are much higher. In 2010, the New York City-Northern New Jersey-Long Island area had a median gross rent of $1,125, which equals 155 hours of work. Basically, if you worked full-time, didn't eat, commute or pay utilities, and you gave nearly every penny to your landlord, you could just make it in the Big Apple.
Minimum wage: $7.25 per hour
•Gas: $2.78 or 23 minutes
•Movie ticket: $7.95 or 1 hour, 6 minutes
•Rent: $789 or 109 hours
And remember during the time that Congress allowed minimum wage to fall far below the poverty level they voted themselves dozens of raises totaling 10's of thousands of dollars. Those greedy pigs.