To Escape Poverty, Minimum-Wage Earners Need to Work 50-Hour Weeks

Living on $7.25 per hour is no picnic.

Protesting the minimum wage. (Shutterstock.)

Protesting the minimum wage. (Shutterstock.)

If the United States is the greatest economic power the world has ever seen, it has a funny way of showing it to the lower classes. Take minimum wage for example. Trying to support a family on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has got to be rough. Just compare that to Australia ($15.81), Germany ($11) and Denmark (a whopping $21), and it quickly becomes a sobering statistic.

A recent Wall Street Journal story puts it in even more dire terms: A single parent with a minimum-wage job supporting two children would need to work 50 hours per week just to pass the poverty line (calculated as half of a country’s median household income.)

That’s three times more than the amount of work minimum wage earners in the U.K. need, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

It was hardest for minimum-wage workers in the Czech Republic to earn their way out of poverty. They would need to work 79 hours a week. Estonia, at 60 hours, and South Korea, at 59, followed.

In those countries, “the working hours required to escape poverty on a minimum wage are unrealistic for lone parents in particular,” the study said. “They would need better income support, or wages significantly above the minimum wage to work their way out of poverty.”

Australia, at six hours, and Ireland, at eight, had the shortest work-weeks needed to exceed the poverty threshold. The low figures reflect the substantial welfare benefits available to qualifying families.

Congressional Democrats have recently been stumping for a $12 per hour minimum wage by 2020 — claiming it would give 38 million Americans a much-needed raise. Here in Philadelphia, a vocal group of citizens — including a few City Council members — have been clamoring for $15 per hour.

Just for fun (or to make yourself really sad) let’s examine Philadelphia using the same metrics as the OECD (taking children out of the equation.) We’re just spitballing here, but the median household income in Philadelphia is $34,207, so it would take an income of $17,103 per year to surpass the 50 percent poverty-line threshold. At $7.25 per hour (for non-city contractors), a minimum-wager must work 46 hours per week (for 52 weeks) to climb above the poverty line. That’s worse than 15 of the countries examined in the OECD study.