Minimum Wage is not a Living Wage

Peggy O'Mara
9 min readJan 5, 2023

CEO pay and corporate profits come first

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It’s been holiday vacation time for most US schools and millions of children were home for two weeks. How did parents who do not make a living wage manage this? Most do not have paid leave and the costs of childcare are out of their reach.

About a third of the US workforce makes less than $15 an hour, including nearly two million who make the minimum wage of $7.25 or less. The majority of those who make the minimum wage are employed preparing and serving food. They may also work in sales or retail, in personal care, or health services, in farming, fishing or forestry, or in construction or maintenance.

Federal law exempts employers from paying a minimum wage to tipped employees as long as their hourly wage of $2.13 plus tips adds up to the minimum wage. The law also exempts seasonal farm workers, workers with disabilities, full-time students, those under 20, and student-learners. In addition, 29% of short-term and contract workers, gig workers, make less than the minimum wage.

These low waged workers are disproportionally women and people of color. According to OXFAM:

  • 40% of working women make less than $15 an hour (compared to 25% of men)
  • 50% of women of color make less than $15 an hour
  • 46% of Hispanic/Latinx workers make less than $15 an hour (compared to 26% of white workers)
  • 47% of Black workers make less than $15 an hour

History of the minimum wage

The idea of a minimum wage in the US arose in the early 1900s out of widespread concern for the welfare of women and children who worked in sweatshops. Minimum wage laws were first introduced at the state level and most applied only to women and children, but in 1923, state minimum wage laws were declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

In 1938, the US Congress adopted the Fair Labor Standards Act, which, for the first time, instituted a federal minimum wage of $0.25 an hour. Like the state minimum wage, the federal minimum wage was also immediately challenged in the courts, but in 1941 the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality.

The cost of living and worker…

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Peggy O'Mara

Peggy O’Mara is an award winning journalist. She was the Editor and Publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years. Her focus is Family, Health, and Justice.