The debate over whether or not to raise minimum wage is at a fever pitch right now, with the naysayers predicting it’ll lead to massive job losses and the supporters fighting back that it’s long overdue. Somewhat lost in this melee is how it’ll affect those on food stamps, with 1 in 7 Americans currently utilizing the SNAP program.
Does the Minimum Wage Really Need to be Adjusted?
Nothing ever needs to happen, but minimum wage hasn’t kept pace with inflation in almost 50 years. In 1968, minimum wage was today’s equivalent of $8.56 an hour—the peak for the federal minimum wage.
Since then, minimum wage has been on a steady decline, with the last increase coming five years ago in 2009. To make matters worse, inflation has outpaced minimum wage such that one hour’s work at minimum wage is worth 5.8 percent less now than it was in 2009. This means that proportionally speaking, a minimum wage employee just can’t buy as many things working the same number of hours that they used to.
Each State Tells a Different Story
Out of the whole country, 19 states and the District of Columbia have set their own minimum wage at a higher level than the federal rate, along with cities and counties going even higher.
The highest minimum wage in the country right now can be found in San Francisco, where workers earn $10.74 an hour. In terms of states, though, Washington tops the list at $9.32 an hour for both regular and tipped workers.
But the lowest minimum wage states in the country are Georgia and Wyoming, where regular and tipped workers are paid a shameful $5.15 and $2.13 an hour, respectively—barely enough to cover a gallon of gas.
What This All Means
Let’s take a look at the two highest and two lowest states in terms of minimum wage, and what their illiteracy, unemployment, crime, and education (25+ with at least a bachelor’s degree) rates are, as well as how many people in each of the four states are on food stamps.
WashingtonIlliteracy: A high of 34.3% in Franklin County and a low of 5.7% in San Juan County.Unemployment: 6.4%Crime: 346 per 100,000 people (28th place)Education: 30.3%, or 10th placeFood Stamps: 15.5%
Oregon ($9.10 an hour for both regular and tipped workers)Illiteracy: A high of 20.3% in Morrow County and a low of 7.1% in Benton County.Unemployment: 6.9%Crime: 280 per 100,000 people (38th place)Education: 28.3%, or 18th placeFood Stamps: 20%
GeorgiaIlliteracy: A high of 35.9% in Atkinson County and a low of 8.3% in Forsyth County.Unemployment: 7.1% (tied for 40th place)Crime: 471 per 100,000 people (19th place)Education: 27.1%, or 23rd placeFood Stamps: 17.9%
WyomingIlliteracy: A high of 11.5% in Carbon County and a low of 6.7% in Teton County.Unemployment: 2.6%Crime: 240 per 100,000 people (43rd place)Education: 23.4%, or 39th placeFood Stamps: 6.6%
As you can see, a low or high minimum wage in one doesn’t necessarily equate positively or negatively to the respective measures of living, but something more interesting happens when the data is extrapolated into regions.
For example, the Southwest (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, but not Florida) is one big cluster of high food stamps users (the lowest is Georgia), while living right in the middle of the country (Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska) has the least percentage of food stamps users in each state. Meanwhile, the (il)literacy rates in those regions equate fairly well with food stamps usage, with the lowest illiteracy rates clustered in the middle and north-midwest region, and the highest rates in the mid-south and southwest regions.
Finally, the states in the south (Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina) where their minimum wage is either lower than the federal level or they have no minimum wage tend to be equated with higher illiteracy and food stamps use.
This may be pure conjecture, but it seems as though there’s a relationship between raising the minimum wage and having your citizens turn out better educated, more illiterate, and less likely to be on food stamps?