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Poverty and Florida’s New Minimum Wage

By Barbara Ann Kelley, CBSTampa.com
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Federal food stamps card that is used to purchase food in Florida. Recent statistics show that nationwide, one in seven Americans receives help from the Federal government with buying food. The food stamp program was used by 43.6 million people in November 2010. Before the recession, the program was serving 26 million.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Federal food stamps card that is used to purchase food in Florida. Recent statistics show that nationwide, one in seven Americans receives help from the Federal government with buying food. The food stamp program was used by 43.6 million people in November 2010. Before the recession, the program was serving 26 million. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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As Tampa Bay and the rest of Florida ring in the New Year, minimum wage workers will start earning 36 cents an hour more than they did in 2011.

Starting in January a minimum wage worker will earn $14,726.40 a year for a 40 hour work week. This small increase is unlikely to help Tampa Bay workers cover the cost of fundamentals like housing, utilities, food, health care, transportation and, in the case of working parents, child care.

The poverty threshold gets updated every year to allow for inflation, unfortunately what makes up being deprived of a socially acceptable minimum standard of living has not been updated since 1955. As a result, the current poverty line only takes goods into account that were common more than 50 years ago.

The old formula assumes that food costs consume one-third of a family’s after-tax income — an assumption that continues today, though food expenses are now closer to a seventh of a family’s income. This outdated formula fails to take into account costs of housing, transportation, health care, child care and other current expenses that have become essential in maintaining a minimum standard of living in 2011.

In 2011 a single worker would need an income of $30,012 a year, slightly over $14 an hour, to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. Taking that into account. No one can afford an adequate standard of living in today’s world on less than $10 an hour.

Even with the minimum wage hike to $7.67 an hour in January, Florida will be a dollar an hour behind the State of Washington’s minimum wage which checks in at a surprising $8.67 an hour.

Any minimum wage increase for Florida below $10 an hour maybe too little and too late for Tampa Bay’s children raised by minimum wage earners.

The facts are grim, in Tampa Bay one in five children under 18 live in poverty. That’s over 200,000 children in the Bay Area that are living third world lives in our own backyard.

Last year, as corporate profits grew at their most rapid clip since 1950, a record number of Tampa Bay families got food stamps.

Many Florida businesses insist that when the minimum wage increases in January, they will just raise the price of their goods and services to make that money back. This may push more Tampa Bay families into poverty by increasing the cost of living well above the means of these lower income families.

It’s possible that the answer to a better standard of living for low wage earners in Florida and the rest of the nation may lie in law makers hands, not in their own.

CBS Tampa welcomes your views. Does the minimum wage really deprive workers of a livable minimum standard of living? How should the formula for measuring poverty be adjusted? Share your ideas and views in the comments below.

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