Based on what minimum? Getting by on the minimum wage in New Bedford
Authors: Victoria Wood and Lioma Terrero Soto, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)
Editor’s note: Victoria and Lioma wrote a terrific paper that extended far beyond a blog post. We’ve excerpted the document here, but we encourage you to read their full report available as a PDF: Getting by on the minimum wage in New Bedford
As researchers who are concerned about this issue, we decided that we would explore what it is actually like to live on the minimum wage our local community. We wanted to better understand and also to bring to light the problems that minimum wage earners face so that citizens, advocates, and policymakers alike have a more accurate picture of this issue. We hope that this valuable information will be used to help formulate effective policies—instead of or in addition to raising the minimum wage—to address these struggles.
What is it like to live on the minimum wage in New Bedford? Is the minimum wage in New Bedford enough to cover the cost of living? How do minimum-wage earners make ends meet? What types of policies could address the problems of minimum wage workers?
We first calculated the monthly and annual wages of minimum wage earners working 40 hours a week in New Bedford using the Massachusetts minimum wage. We then compared the monthly wages of minimum wage earners to current cost of living data for New Bedford. To calculate the cost of living in New Bedford, we used two different cost of living calculators. We used the Crittenton Women’s Union (CWU) Economic Independence Calculator and MIT’s living wage calculator. . . . To supplement our cost of living research, we also looked at apartment listings in New Bedford to find actual rent costs for one and two bedroom apartments. We looked at the rent for one and two bedroom apartments in three different apartment complexes in New Bedford. We also looked independent apartment listings on Zillow and Craigslist and calculated the mean rent for one and two bedroom apartments (based on seven apartment listings for one-bedroom apartments and seven apartment listings for two-bedroom apartments).
Finally, we conducted ten interviews with New Bedford residents earning the minimum wage. Four of the interviews were conducted by phone, and six were in-person. . . . We conducted interviews with seven women and three men. All interviewees were adults over the age of 25.
We were able to compensate each participant with a $20 gift card to Stop & Shop thanks to a generous research grant awarded to us by the Office of Undergraduate Research at UMass Dartmouth.
Monthly wages of a minimum wage earner before taxes:
$8.00/hour ⋅ 40 hours/week = $320/week
$320/week ⋅ 4.35weeks/month = $1,392/month
$1,392/month ⋅ 12 months/year = $16,704/year
. . .
Based on our findings, we have concluded that a minimum wage worker does not earn enough money to live independently. Despite this finding, many of the single minimum wage earners were not able to qualify for government assistance because they earned too much money.
Earning the minimum wage has adverse effects on physical and psychological health. Constant stress contributes to depression and feelings of worthlessness. Feelings of embarrassment about their income level were not uncommon. The workers with children expressed concern for their children’s futures because of their inability to pay for necessities and provide opportunities. Many of the minimum wage earners we interviewed felt that they were trapped due to a lack of upward mobility.
Education was regarded by all interviewees as the key to a brighter future. Having access to education seemed to be the problem; many of the workers we interviewed could not afford to go to school.
It is clear that public policy is needed to help address these pressing problems that minimum wage earners face.
. . .
There are limitations to our study. The cost of living will inherently vary per individual/family, and the cost of living calculators can’t reflect this. Additionally, we were only able to conduct ten interviews, so we don’t have a representative sample of New Bedford residents.
This project was humbling. The people we interviewed gave us intimate glimpses into their everyday struggles, and it made us reflect on how fortunate we are to be in school working towards our goals. This project also helped us learn how to create a detailed work plan in order to explore an issue of interest to us, and this skill will certainly help us both in our future personal, academic, and professional endeavors.