Still Struggling to Make Ends Meet: A report on living wages in Washington State


July 2018

Workers across the country face difficulties making ends meet; the same is true in Washington State. Two years ago, in an attempt to help the minimum wage keep pace with increased cost of living, voters in Washington State approved Initiative 1433. While that provided a much-need- ed boost to the state’s minimum wage, workers and their families continue to struggle with a wage that doesn’t allow them to meet all of their needs.

While Initiative 1433 has increased the minimum wage faster than would have occurred with previous inflation-based adjustments, the state minimum wage still falls short of a living wage.

A living wage is the amount a full-time worker must be paid in order to make ends meet, including setting aside money for emergencies and for some savings. In Washington State, the statewide living wage for a single adult is $17.85 per hour, or $37,123.06 per year, far exceeding the current state minimum wage of $11.50. A worker with no dependents who is paid minimum wage must work 62.1 hours per week to make ends meet.

For working families with children, the cost of living is even greater. Statewide, a single adult with two children must be paid $34.90 per hour or more to make ends meet. Even in a two-parent family with two children, where both parents are working, each parent needs to be paid at least $22.06 per hour to meet all of their family’s needs.

Download the Full Report (pdf)

Pay Up! Long Hours and Low Pay Leave Workers at a Loss

In recent years, a number of cities have raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is significantly above federal and state minimum wages. These changes have prompted debate around the country regarding what constitutes an adequate minimum. This report contributes to that conversation by providing living wage figures, finding that current minimum wage rates are far too low to meet individuals’ and families’ needs.

Pay Up CoverBy Allyson Fredericksen

Pay Up! Report (pdf)

How many hours does a minimum wage worker have to put in to make ends meet?

Our table has the answer for all 50 states.

Collective Bargaining is a Valuable Tool for Workers to Make Ends Meet

Working full-time should allow workers to make ends meet; instead, many workers across the country continue to be paid wages that leave them living paycheck-to-paycheck. As we’ve shown in our Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series since 1999, a living wage is well above the minimum wage that too many workers are paid.

Our recent report, “Low Wage Nation,” shows that nearly half of new jobs are low-wage jobs. In October, we will release a new installment showing that a living wage across the country is well above the federal minimum wage, and above state minimum wages.

But, the question remains, what needs to be done so that workers are paid a living wage?

One policy recommendation is to increase the minimum wage nationwide, lifting the wage floor for all workers. Another recommendation is to strengthen unions and support collective bargaining efforts by workers, especially in occupations that have not traditionally been unionized or have seen resistance from employers, such as fast food and retail.

The Alliance for a Just Society believes that all jobs should be good jobs, and unions are strong tools for making that a reality.

Union members earn higher wages than non-union members, and the gender wage gap is less for unionized workplaces than it is for those that are not unionized. In addition, though, unions put upward pressure on wages for all workers – even those whose workplaces are not unionized.

Furthermore, collective bargaining can also help lower the cost of living, making it easier for working families to make ends meet. Union efforts have helped workers gain access to affordable health insurance and retirement funds, including pensions.

Benefits like paid sick leave and paid family leave make sure that workers are paid while they care for their own health and when they care for their families.

As worker-led organizing like the Fight for 15 and Our Walmart have shown, workers in fast food and retail face harsh opposition to higher wages, workplace protections, access to health insurance, fair scheduling, and more. It is no surprise that workers in the Fight for 15 movement trying to make ends meet now ask not only for a $15 wage – but for $15 and a union.

NY Fast food workers win $15 minimum wage

Fast food workers in New York are getting a raise!

Hard work by our affiliates Citizen Action New York and Make the Road New York – along with dozens of other allied organizations and unions, and thousands of workers who took to the streets and shared their personal stories – has paid off  in a huge victory.

Yesterday, the New York State Wage Board approved gradually raising the minimum wage for New York City fast food chain employees to $15 an hour by 2018. Fast food workers throughout New York state will gradually raise to $15 an hour by 2021.

“This is a huge victory for fast food workers, and for everyone working for low wages in New York,” said LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society.  “It puts pressure on employers in other low-paying industries to start paying their workers a living wage.

“I applaud the hard work of everyone who fought for this important moment,” said Hall.

Fast food workers are paid less than any other occupation, and fast food work is projected to be the second largest growing occupation (PDF) in the country, with more openings than nearly any other.

This momentous victory brings fast food workers in New York significantly closer to earning a wage that will allow them to support themselves. It will boost their own financial stability, their communities, and the economy for all of us.

In New York and many other states, $15 is still a modest wage. This increase however allows workers to come closer to making ends meet.

In the report “Families Out of Balance” by the Alliance for a Just Society, our research shows that a living wage for a single adult is $18.47 an hour in New York state and is $22.49 an hour in New York City.

A pay raise is long overdue for all our workers nationwide. Tomorrow marks six years since the federal government last raised the minimum wage – to $7.25 on July 24, 2009.

A bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate Wednesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and in the House by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

If the wage can be raised in Seattle and New York and Los Angeles and so many other cities, it can be raised nationally – and we can do it.

Congratulations New York! The struggle continues!unnamed (4)

Job Gap Research is Key as New York Groups Fight for Fair Wages

Fast food workers in New York took another big step toward winning fair wages two weeks ago when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the convening of a new Wage Board to examine and make recommendations about increasing the minimum wage in the state’s fast food industry.

Cuomo’s office has now announced the next steps in the Wage Board process, including plans for four public hearings in June – in Buffalo, New York City, Long Island and Albany – to take public testimony.

Alliance for a Just Society salutes the broad coalition of community and labor groups in New York. Their disciplined organizing, savvy strategizing, and major mobilizations demonstrating strength in numbers, have raised the public demand and built the grassroots momentum to make this progress possible.

Alliance affiliates Citizen Action of New York, Make the Road New York, and Restaurant Opportunities Center United of New York have all played important roles in the ongoing organizing for fair wages in the state.

They helped secure a $2.50 increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers through the Wage Board process in February, raising the tipped minimum wage to $7.50 an hour – and marking a major step forward for the One Fair Wage campaign to end subminimum wages. This victory was a big win. It has since proved doubly significant: by demonstrating the potential of the Wage Board process, it paved the way for the governor to employ that process again now.

These organizations mobilized hundreds of grassroots members to join Fight for $15 events in New York City and in cities across the state on April 15, elevating fast food workers’ demands for $15 an hour and union rights and building momentum in the ongoing push to raise wages.

They coordinated legislative strategies in Albany to pass a strong minimum wage bill (phasing up to $15 an hour in New York City and its suburbs, and $12.60 an hour statewide) through the State Assembly on May 4. These moves raise the stakes for the governor to take executive action on wages in light of the legislative gridlock in the State Senate.

As the new Wage Board convenes and as the coalition partners in New York organize to ensure that grassroots voices calling for a $15 wage are heard at every public hearing across the state, the Alliance’s research on what constitutes a living wage in New York provides an important benchmark for the Board’s investigation.

According to the installment of our Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series, the living wage for a single worker in New York State is $18.47 an hour. In New York City, with its higher costs of living, the living wage for a single worker is $22.49 an hour. For families with children, the living wage levels are significantly higher once child care costs are factored in).

Under New York State law, a Wage Board can recommend changes to the minimum wage in a specific industry if it finds that wages are insufficient to provide for the life and health of workers. Based on the Job Gap living wage research, that’s clearly the case with fast food wages in New York today. Looking at what it actually costs to make ends meet in New York, this much is clear: the time for a $15 wage floor is now.

The new Wage Board can make $15 an hour a reality for New York’s fast food workers. The coalition of partners in New York is gearing up to mobilize for the raise fast food workers need, pushing toward another big victory on fair wages.

But we know the fast food Wage Board won’t be the end of the fight for fair wages in New York. Instead, for organizers and grassroots leaders in communities across the state it’s the next landmark on the road to winning an increase in the minimum wage for all workers in New York.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national organizing network with affiliates in 20 states.