"Getting by" is a notably nebulous terms and it's in stark contrast to a "livable wage."
"What you don't necessarily realize when you start selling your time by the hour," writes Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, "is that what you're really selling is your life." The going hourly rate for your life is? $7.25 if you go by the federal minimum wage, which hasn't been raised since 2009. More than half of states mandate a higher minimum wage than the federal level. A minimum wage job will fetch you $10 an hour in Maine; $10.50 in California; and $12.50 in Washington, D.C. But where is that wage enough to get by?
"Getting by" is a notably nebulous term. In 2018, the federal poverty level for an individual was $12,140. Work 40 hours a week at $7.25 an hour for all 52 weeks of the year, and you'll top out at the relatively princely $15,080. But if you have two children that salary puts you more than $5,000 below the poverty line.
And "getting by" is in stark contrast to a "livable wage." When the website Zippia crunched the numbers using MIT's Living Wage Calculator, Kentucky, the most affordable, still required $43,308 annually to support two adults and one kid.
Across the country, a single parent working minimum wage with two children should expect to sleep in the living room. A new study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found there's not a single county or metropolitan area in the United States in which a minimum-wage worker can afford a two-bedroom home. There are only 12 counties in the country where a one-bedroom home is within reach at all, and most of them were in rural areas, where jobs are few and far between.
"I grew up hearing over and over, to the point of tedium, that 'hard work' was the secret of success: 'Work hard and you'll get ahead' or 'It's hard work that got us where we are,'" writes Ehrenreich. "No one ever said that you could work hard — harder even than you ever thought possible — and still find yourself sinking ever deeper into poverty and debt."
So where can a person scrape by on minimum wage? GOBankingRates found the largest cities where the minimum wage is higher than the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage. Then they factored in the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment, groceries, utilities, and transport and found the best places to live on very, very little.
The minimum wage is $8.90 an hour but the median rent in Motor City is just under $600. After the necessities are paid, minimum-wage earners in Detroit will have $4,870 left over.
Though the minimum wage is only $8.15 an hour, GOBankingRates could find no city with rent cheaper than Toledo, where it's about $500 a month. Groceries are cheapest here, too. After basic necessities, a minimum wage earlier in Toledo could expect to have $5,248 in their pockets.
The minimum wage in Arizona is a comparatively princely $20,800. They also pay less for utilities than most places, so that when the bills are paid, a minimum wage earner here could expect to have $6,201 left over for the year.
With the highest minimum wage on the list at $10.50 an hour, it's possible to get by in Fresno where rent and utilities are also pretty cheap. At the end of the year, a minimum wage worker here will have $8,387 left over.
Topping the list for it-can-be-done is Tucson, Arizona, where rent, groceries, and utilities are comparable to Toledo but the minimum wage is almost $2 more per hour. A minimum-wage worker in Tucson can expect to clear $8,704 annually after the necessities.
But this life is far from the high life. Living on an extreme budget year-round is like trying to thrive long-term on a super-restrictive diet—it's not sustainable. And the stress of poverty is so profound, it's shaving years—often more than a decade—off people's lives.
"People go to work to 'make a living,'" writes Kate McGahan, "and yet it seems to me they just work very hard to pay for a life that they cannot live because they are so busy working to pay for it."
What does an intern provide to a company and should they be paid for their work?
If you've ever searched for an internship, you know how rare it is to find one that's paid. Usually, the associated advertisements focus on how potential interns will benefit by working as part of the team at a top company, learning skills they'll use for the rest of their lives and networking with notable people.
However, some question the legitimacy of the gains from unpaid internships. Are students getting enough out of their internships if their bosses just choose to use them as secretaries and coffee runners? And how do unpaid internships contribute to income inequality? Let's examine a few aspects to keep in mind when considering whether or not interns should be paid.
Unpaid internships tolerated in ultra-competitive industries
A person who is trying to get his or her foot in the door and break into the entertainment industry or another extremely competitive field may reason that unpaid internships are not only common but also expected. That individual might think, "If I can just learn how things work at X Company, I'll have something great to put on my resume, and I might even get a job out of the experience. Considering those advantages, I'll figure out a way to get by without pay."
There's also the problematic reality that if a potential intern is unwilling to work for no pay, he or she can feel certain that dozens or even hundreds of other hopefuls would surely work hard without getting paid. Then, there's the assumption that if a person doesn't seize the chance to grab an unpaid internship, he or she might be completely out of luck since internships are so scarce and people are always willing to work for free.
Legal specifications to keep in mind
The stereotypical intern is someone dashing around from dawn until dusk, eagerly making copies and filling empty coffee cups for superiors. Although that dedicated individual might be making a strong impression regarding personal work ethic, those types of activities don't transfer to become future job skills. Some companies have taken bold stances and chosen to pay their interns, recognizing that they are assets to the team.
However, there have been instances where interns fulfilled duties that ended up being integral to a project's success, and they didn't receive a dime for their efforts. Many people do not realize that unpaid internships can result in lawsuits related to the Fair Labor Standards Act. There were two prolific cases associated with interns at Gawker and Fox Searchlight Pictures. Both argued because their duties were so integral to operations, they deserved payment.
According to legal rulings, unpaid internships have to occur in a primarily educational environment that benefits the intern. Also, the employer cannot take advantage of an intern and make that person do things that would necessitate a paid staff member receiving income for the work.
Unpaid internships highlight income inequality
People have also argued strongly that unpaid internships are luxuries for the economically fortunate. That line of thought makes sense, especially considering that many internships occur during the summer. That's a time when people who are not financially stable can't even consider applying for internships because they have to use that coursework-free season to make money that'll sustain them through upcoming semesters.
It raises the question of whether employers might be unintentionally preventing ideal candidates from applying for an internship because an unpaid option isn't financially realistic. Employers who offer paid internships bring a welcome element of equal opportunity to the internship candidate pool.
What must happen to help interns who take unpaid internships?
Indeed, paying interns or making them work for free is a decision that's up to employers. If they choose the latter, they must break the stereotype and reward worthy interns by letting them do things that'll genuinely benefit them in their future careers.
Of course, it would be feasible to assign interesting activities based on a person's prior performance. If someone characteristically shows up late and displays an obviously bored attitude while interning at a company, he or she would arguably not be a prime candidate for exciting and demanding responsibilities. On the other hand, when an intern manages time well, is inquisitive and otherwise meets or exceeds expectations, then the stage is set for bigger and greater things.
Also, employers need to consider that payment could be an incentive that helps them find the best, most highly motivated interns. If that happens, they might reduce hiring costs down the line because they can bring proven interns on board instead of having to dive blindly into the job market.
Hopefully, the influx of legal cases taken against companies that didn't pay interns for doing valuable work might inspire a change. Until then, it's up to interns to be assertive if they're continually only given menial duties during an internship. As long as they're performing well at a level that is at least as good as their peers, they can build a strong case that if payment is out of the question, they need to get educational ways to spend their time.
One woman's story of a mother who worked full-time and how it affected her
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, slightly less than half of all married households have two working parents. I am in that 47 percent of kids who grew up with a mother and father who worked full-time; they worked throughout my childhood and well into my adult years. (Despite their current empty-nester status, my parents still work full-time, with dreams of retirement somewhere over the 401(k) Rainbow.) Many of my friends, on the other hand, grew up with stay-at-home moms, self-proclaimed homemakers or housewives, who between their child's violin practice, doing carpool and running the booster club, spent plenty of quality time with their children.
Millennial women have a unique to-work-or-not-to-work dilemma
Here's my theory: Millennial women have a unique to-work-or-not-to-work dilemma. Half of us were raised by women who did not work, yet as young women, we are tasked with closing that pesky gender gap by working and climbing the corporate ladder.
The point of this piece is not that all women should want to be working moms, or that being a stay-at-home mom is bad. While I am not a mother, I have spent enough time babysitting whiny kids and barfing babies to believe it when people say being a mom is a full-time job. My point in discussing the benefits of being raised by a working mom, and the conclusions I drew from the experience, is solely this: Employed moms should be relieved of working-mom guilt, and future stay-at-home moms should not face ridicule for not "leaning in" far enough.
The most important thing I learned about having a mom who worked full-time is that moms are individuals. Despite the simplicity of that statement, it was an ah-ha moment for me to learn.
My mom, Alexandra "Alie" Pruner, considers herself first and foremost a mother, which makes sense given that she carried me inside her for nine months and has spent enough money on my education to fund a small country. Growing up with a working mom made me realize, though, that in addition to being a parent, my mom is also a spouse, a co-worker, a Democrat, a mentor, a daughter, a feminist, a shameless lover of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson movies and many other things. My mom spent an entire lifetime in many of those roles long before my brother and I came along; she chose to live those roles because it made her happy.
By working full-time, my mom was a better mother to me. She was happier as an individual, thus making her a more compassionate, aware and present
Not everybody is meant to be a working mom, but for my mother, work is a necessity. She was forced to be independent at a very young age, and making strides in the corporate world makes her happy. She works on the weekends, has a fifth appendage — also known as her BlackBerry — and has probably led a board meeting via conference call during most of our family vacations. She is a pioneer for women in her industry, and much like myself, although on a much grander scale, she seeks to relieve working moms of the guilt they experience for leaving their kids at home.
By working full-time, my mom was a better mother to me. She was happier as an individual, thus making her a more compassionate, aware and present mother when she got home from work. She may not have been the person who picked me up from school or cooked us dinner every night — thank goodness for that, by the way, because she is a horrible cook — but she was a better mom for making herself a happy individual even when it made her feel guilty. I love her even more for having the courage to work full-time during an era, when women were encouraged to be wives or mothers first — and people second.
I hope our generation affords women the right to choose what type of lifestyle is best for them as individuals, and frees them from any guilt or ridicule for making their choice. Closing the gender gap and modern feminism comes down to the perception and treatment of women and their decisions. It is about relieving working moms, like mine, from feeling shame, and preventing future moms from feeling that being a stay-at-home mom is not enough.
I am not upset that my mom missed a few soccer games. I am proud she knew that to be the best mother possible, she had to be the best version of herself as an individual first. I hope she feels she can wear the titles CFO and mom with equal pride, because the way she has inspired me, she definitely should.