A group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology led by Amy Glasmeier, a professor of Economic Geography and Regional Planning, created the Living Wage Calculator in 2003. Since then it has been updated as frequently as possible to give the most accurate picture of every corner of the U.S. economy.
The calculator is impressive for many reasons. It doesn’t just give a general picture of each state in the union, but it goes so far as to examine individual counties and metropolitan areas in each state.
The city of Tulsa is (arguably) doing its job by improving the local economy in the ways that the city can actually control. Still, there are many corporate offices and out-of-state industrial companies that also contribute to our local economy but are not regulated by city government. With so many factors contributing to the Tulsa economy, it is not difficult to imagine how low income citizens could get caught in the crossfire of an economic battle between businesses and policymakers. To be honest, this isn’t even a problem with the city of Tulsa so much as it is with the entire US economy. However, having these statistics for the city we currently live in brings the problem literally and figuratively close to home.
The living wage that the calculator provides is the minimum hourly wage required to support yourself working a full-time job in your local area. The statistics for the Tulsa metro area are as follows:
For a single adult working a full time job, he or she would have to earn $9.51 an hour to support him or herself successfully. So a single adult working a full time job at the current minimum wage of $7.25 couldn’t support himself. And most single adults who are living in poverty only earn about $5.00 an hour in gross income each year.
As scary as that realization is, it only gets worse when you look at single parents, or families with only one working adult. The living wage for one adult and one child is $20.61 an hour, and the poverty line for this family unit would be $7.00 an hour, only 25 cents less than minimum wage.
A single parent with two children, it turns out, would even fall below the poverty line if working full time at minimum wage. The living wage for this family is $24.58, and even if the parent is making $9.00 an hour, the family would still meet the poverty line. If you add a third child to the mix, those numbers jump to $30.82 and $11.00 respectively. That’s right, a single mother with three children needs to earn more than $11.00 an hour just to not be in poverty. In the meantime, because she isn’t earning less that $11, but isn’t making $30.00 an hour, she can’t receive any government assistance to care for her children, or care for them herself.
The story doesn’t get much prettier when you have two adults both working or only one working. In fact, the only time that living wage is within a dollar per hour of the minimum wage is when two adults with no children are both working full time, and even then there is a 78 cent difference, which adds up to a $1,622 dollar difference per person in a year.
Because this isn’t enough to cause outrage, the calculator breaks apart how it got its numbers, so you can measure just how much you are missing out on. For a single adult, roughly $3,022 is needed for food in a year, $2,070 for medical costs, $5,530 for housing, $4,697 for transportation, and $2,253 that will be spent on miscellaneous items like toilet paper and toothpaste. In total, after about $2,200 in taxes, being a single adult requires an average annual salary of $19,772. In stark contrast, the annual equivalent of minimum wage is $15,080. That difference is roughly the cost of transportation, so you better live right next door to your job.
Again, that looks bad, but it is nothing in comparison to the single mother of three kids. $8,887 a year in food, $12,784 in child care, $6,723 in medical, $11,843 in housing, $11,553 in transportation, $5,178 in miscellaneous expenses, and nearly $7,133 in taxes, means that she needs to make at least $64,101 a year. For reference, she needs to be employed somewhere in the engineering field to care for herself and three kids without help.
Since most single mothers are not engineers, the minimum wage mom who only earns $15,080 a year has some tough decisions to make. I guess we’ll just have to hope that no one gets sick, get lucky that one of the kids is old enough to watch the others, skip Christmas and birthdays, save money by only eating fast food and ramen, and maybe if we all squeeze into a one bedroom house that is in walking distance of the elementary school we will only be $10,000 in debt this year.
Luckily for us eager college students ready to get out into a world that is more expensive than we can realistically afford, the calculator even provides a handy list of the typical annual salary for many occupational fields in Tulsa so that you can plan how many kids to have if you want to be able to afford to meet all their needs.
The majority of graduating business majors will probably make around $50,000 a year. So if you plan to be a single parent you should stick to two kids, and surprisingly, if you have a full-time working spouse you can only really afford to have one child together.
Our law students are looking slightly better, you guys “might” make about $70,000 a year, in which case you are among the only group of people, including CEOs, federal government officials, professional athletes, singers and movie stars who can afford to have three or more children. So congratulations on your little bundles of joy.
As for our college of Arts and Sciences graduates, be prepared to make $28,000 to $40,000 a year. So not only will it take you literally forever to pay off your student loans, you can’t afford to have children, and a spouse may or may not be within the range of realistic possibilities. I hope you enjoy being forever alone.
So what’s the message here? You could try moving out of Tulsa, Oklahoma after college, but the economy isn’t doing so hot anywhere in the country. We could cut taxes, but at most that would only be a partial benefit. We could raise the minimum wage, which would help, but could cause inflation. Or, we could massively reform the entire economy, but that would be incredibly difficult and piss off a hell of a lot of capitalists.
This isn’t a problem that can be solved by simply electing a new president. We could have every economic think tank in this country working on this problem, and we still wouldn’t find an easy solution that everyone could agree to. Yet hopefully we all agree that this is a problem that needs a solution. We can not continue to drive our well-intended and hard working families further into the ground by letting this problem stagnate under our feet.