You'd think the exceptionally low minimum-wage – $7.25 an hour – would be the shame of a country like the United States that prides itself on its economic leadership. Half of minimum-wage jobs are held by adults over 25 years old, and asking adults to live on $7.25, or $14,500 a year, doesn't leave them with enough to rent an apartment, commute to work, raise a child and participate in society in any meaningful way.
Many US states have higher minimum-wage requirements than the government, with Washington State leading the pack at $9.19 an hour. That's a start, but many large, international companies will only pay the minimum the federal government requires. As a result, the federal minimum wage keeps an entire class of people trapped in economic servitude, focusing their attention on survival rather than growth, barring their ability to save enough or pay for education that would allow them to rise to the middle class.
Income inequality is as bad as it has ever been – and the reason is simple.
Low-wage workers can't even care for their own health without giving up some other necessity. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, it took a minimum-wage worker 130 hours to earn a year's worth of health benefits in 1979. That is only three-and-a-half weeks of full-time, minimum -age work. By 2011, the same health coverage cost 749 hours, or 19 weeks of full-time, minimum-wage work. Working nearly half the year to afford only healthcare, and nothing else, is a ridiculous demand to make of low-wage workers.