Report shows minimum wage cannot cover basic needs in WV

A new report shows that minimum wage workers in West Virginia and across the country cannot make enough money to actually support their basic needs.

The annual report from the Alliance for a Just Society, titled ‘Pay Up! Long Hours and Low Pay Leave Workers at a Loss,’ details the difference between minimum wages and what is known as livable wages, the hourly wage a single worker needs to make to cover basic living necessities. The report is produced annually, and has been published every year since 1999.

According to the 2015 report, West Virginia’s minimum wage of $8 an hour leaves many workers in the state unable to pay for basic living essentials, including food, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, child care and clothing. Under current economic conditions, the study found that a minimum wage worker in West Virginia would have to work 72.2 hours a week to cover basic needs.

“Our state is lucky to have a lower cost of living than most other states,” said Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group. “However, this report still reveals that a minimum wage worker would have to put in over 72 hours a week to earn what’s considered a living wage. This is one of the reasons poverty is so high in our state.”

For minimum wage workers to be able to pay for their own needs without government assistance, the study found it would require government officials to increase the minimum wage to $14.44 per hour in West Virginia and $16.87 per hour nationally.

“While we should all celebrate the increase in West Virginia’s minimum wage to $8 this year and $8.75 next year, far too many working families do not have enough income to afford the basics, and this has deprived our local economies of the spending needed to thrive,” said Ted Boettner, the director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

The report’s emphasis on wages that cannot actually support the cost of living comes at a time when several progressive states and cities in the country have raised minimum wages, and politicians like Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders have largely based their campaigns on issues of income inequality.

The report on minimum wages also follows up the findings of the 2016 West Virginia Economic Outlook released by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research. That report found that the per-capita income of West Virginians is expected to trail behind workers in other parts of the country.

According to that report, the per capita income of West Virginians — the amount of money the average person makes in a year — is only expected to increase by 1.8 percent during the next five years. That is compared to a 2.3 percent average per capita income growth rate nationally.

Much of that 1.8 percent growth in per capita income in West Virginia is also expected to occur because more people will become eligible for federal programs like Social Security, the WVU report found.

Currently, the average annual income for West Virginians is $36,600 a year, according to the WVU report. That income level is 21 percent below the national average.

Reach Andrew Brown at andrew.brown@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814, or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.

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