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Making Ends Meet On Minimum Wage

Liz Jones

People who earn minimum wage in Washington state are about to get a small raise.  On New Year’s Day, the hourly rate increases by 15 cents to total $9.19.

Washington’s minimum wage is higher than any other state. But studies show it’s still far below the minimum cost of living here.

To get a sense of minimum wage jobs around Seattle, here's a recent sampling from Craigslist:

  • Maintenance and repair person at Motel 6
  • Dough roller at Round Table Pizza (the job is described as very physically demanding)
  • Dishwasher at a fast-paced restaurant
  • Cleaning and packing frozen fish
  • Cocktail waitress

All these jobs pay minimum wage.  
Mary Ann Campbell was also advertising for an assistant at her horse stables near Woodinville. “They’re cleaning stalls and they’re handling horses, and then they have to be able to shovel poop,” Campbell said.

Campbell said she typically gets more than a hundred applicants for these minimum wage jobs. They tend to be people who don’t rely on this income; they just love horses.

But many people who work low-income jobs heavily depend on the money to cover their living expenses. Ben Henry, of the Seattle-based Alliance for a Just Society, publishes an annual report that looks at the gap between minimum wage and what he calls a living wage.

His study factors in expenses such as transportation, housing, childcare and taxes.  It shows, in Washington, a person needs to earn about $15 per hour to make ends meet. Double that if you’re a single parent with two kids. Henry said the vast majority of jobs pay below a living wage, so many parents end up working two or three jobs.

“That means parents are working 80 hours a week, sometimes more, just to pay rent, just to put food on the table,” Henry said. “And that’s time spent away from kids and time spent away from their families.” Henry points out higher wages not only benefit workers, they also benefit businesses where those paychecks are spent.

Mary Ann Campbell, with the horse stable, says she’d love to pay more than minimum wage, but their profits are so low, she can’t afford more. “I’m the owner of the business,” Campbell said.  “If you sit down and track what I get paid, I get paid less than minimum wage.”

Campbell realizes hers isn’t the typical low-wage job. She does it more for the experience, not the money. But years ago, when she was raising two children on her own, she says she never could’ve gotten by on so little. A full-time minimum wage job in Washington pays about $19,000 a year.

Year started with KUOW: 2006