Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.


Let’s Talk Living Wage

The idea of a federal minimum wage began in the 1890s. In 1912, Massachusetts passed the first minimum wage legislation in the US. It wasn’t until 1938 that we had a federal minimum wage with the Fair Labor Standards Act. The rate was .25 cents an hour. That’s $4.45 in current buying power. Sounds like the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a significant improvement.

Not so fast. According to MIT’s Living Wage calculator, what an individual needs to earn per hour to support their family depends on a lot of factors – where they live, the size of their family and taxes. The calculator factors in housing, medical, transportation, food and other (such as clothing, personal care and housekeeping supplies). In the Austin-Round Rook area, one adult who is sole provider with a spouse and 2 children needs to earn $26.73 an hour. If both parents work, they each need to earn $15.64/hour. The additional income goes to childcare.

Not so long ago, I had a young man in my truancy court who only wanted to work to support his girlfriend and newborn. He didn’t consider school worth his time because he was making $8.50 an hour at McDonald’s. The average pay in Texas at McDonald’s for a crew member, if you’re interested, is $8.98/hour. That living wage calculator? It assumes full time. 2080 hours a year employment. My young man here was working part time, around 10-15 hours a week. I tried to explain to him this was simply not enough money to support his family. His response? My girlfriend has a job, too. At McDonald’s. Making the same and working the same number of hours. So, we’ve made it up to an almost full-time income. Let’s be generous and say between them, they work 40 hours a week (equivalent to one full-time wage). They manage not to need childcare because they arrange their shifts, so someone is always available to care for the baby. Where does $8.50/hour put them? Slightly below the poverty wage of $9.99/hour for 2 adults (with one working) and 1 child and significantly below the living wage of $24.28/hour or $971.31 a week. According to a 2017 Department of Labor Report, “median weekly earnings for workers without a high-school diploma were $488, compared with $668 for those with a high-school diploma. Workers with some college or a two-year associate degree earned $761 and workers with bachelor's degrees or advanced degrees earned $1,193 – about two-and-a-half times the weekly earnings of workers without a high-school diploma and roughly twice the earnings of high-school graduates”. These national figures are not reflective of Texas, which fairly consistently has lower median incomes. According to US Census figures, the median household income in 2017 for the US was $60,336. In Texas, it was $59,206, which is a living wage for most families with 2 or less children in Williamson County. But remember that high school kid? His annual wage, assuming full time equivalent employment between himself and his girlfriend at McDonald’s, is only $17,680. Well below the median and well below the living wage of $50,508 the calculator says he needs. It’s not even a living wage for a single person. MIT says that’s $26,133. What’s the moral of all these numbers and statistics? Stay in school. Get a college degree. The less education you have, the further down the economic scale you’re going be. Sources:'s/salaries?location=US%2FTX

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