Thursday, September 13, 2018

What does employment, wages, and cost of living look like for individuals and families in the United States?

What does employment, wages, and cost of living look like for individuals and families in the United States?
By Angela Smith, HEAL National Coordinator/Co-Founder

The below is an edited version of a previous article posted on the HEAL website in 2011.  While I could update it for 2018, I believe the information to still be valid as the primary issues have not been addressed effectively and the majority is still suffering under debt slavery, debt peonage, and similar issues.

According to official reports, there are   approximately 311,555,665 people in the United States.  And,   127,097,160 people employed in the United States.  This statistic does not include individuals who are self-employed.  Of those 127 million employed by someone other than themselves, the average wage is $16.27 per hour.  But, this is averaging the pay of CEOs with Burger King servers at minimum wage.  So, the most common wage does not equal what is reported as the average wage in the report.  The Federal  minimum wage perhour is $7.25.  And,  almost all employed people in the UnitedStates work for minimum wage or less.  Now, a minimum wage, full-time (meaning 40 hours, not the new "30" or "32" hour "full-time") job will pay (gross) $290 per week and approximately $1160 per month (before taxes).  Here is what a typical paycheck for someone earning minimum wage, full-time, looks like:

Your Pay Check Results
Weekly Gross Pay
Federal Withholding
Social Security
Net Pay

Calculation Based On
Tax Year
Gross Pay
Pay Frequency
Federal Filing Status
# of Federal Exemptions
Additional Federal W/H
Tax Rate
Low Income
Additional State W/H


This makes the net/liquid income of someone working minimum wage full-time in the United States approximately $947.08.  If the individual has only him/herself to care for on this wage, here is what expenses look like without safety-net, health insurance/coverage (free clinics/hospitals/medical reimbursement, no way anyone can afford Obamacare), savings or emergency funds:

National Average Cost for Two-Bedroom Apartment--$1070 (if living with roommate, rent would be $535 for one individual.  At full-time (40 hour) minimum wage, the cost of sharing an apartment with a roommate leaves this individual with $412.92.

Average Cost for a Bus Pass--$25 per month if one can buy a $75 unlimited 3-month bus pass.  This rate is for New Mexico.  Rates for a one-month   unlimited pass in New Yorkis $104 per month.  If we average New Mexico's rates with New York's, we get $64.50.  HEAL will use the $64.50 as an estimated national average.  This leaves the individual in our example with $348.42.  We are giving the most economically efficient accounting for someone with a minimum wage income.  Of course, individuals with vehicles will have even more expenses related to travel.  

Average Cost of Landline Phone and Utilities: The costs of utilities vary greatly depending on use.  The average residential bill provided by Puget Sound Energy in Seattle shows a total of $97.97 per month.  It is unclear if this is for a multi-person household.  Assuming that it would be accurate for a two-person apartment, we will cut the amount in half and apply it to the decreasing spending power of the example individual.  Half of $97.97 is $48.98.  This leaves the individual with $299.44 after the electric bill alone.  For basic landline telephone service with unlimited local calling only, the price starts at  $12 per month.  With Verizon, we chose a "free" phone and selected the   least expensiveplan at $39.99 per month with a $35 activation fee and 450 "anytime minutes" with free weekend/evenings, voice-mail, no texting/data in the plan.  The $12 per month above does not include caller id or voice-mail.  With the least expensive of Verizon's plans, it would leave the individual with $259.45 each month.  If he/she chooses the most basic phone model without voice-mail and no cellular phone, the total he/she has left is $287.44.  Because most people are expected to have a cellular phone in the US today for business and personal use, we will be basing additional calculations on the $259.45 amount left with that expense.  The   minimum cost for water service appears tobe between $15 and $40 per month depending on location.  Based on this, we will assume a 2-person household would pay an average of $50 per month with the split between two roommates being $25 per month.  This will reduce the total money available to $234.45 per month for the individual.  

Average Cost of Food and Groceries (toiletries, etc.) for One Person:    The low range ongroceries for one individual per month is $200 and the high range is $400 permonth.  If we calculate using the low estimate of $200 per month for groceries, this leaves the individual with $34.45. 

Basic Cable: The least expensive plan offered by is $29.99 per month for one year   (and that price will go up).   If two roommates split the cost for basic cable at this rate, they will each pay approximately $14.99 per month for basic cable.  This is if they share a television.  The cost would increase if each had cable access to their individual televisions in individual rooms.  Based on the premise that they would share the television, we will deduct $14.99 from the running total.  This leaves the individual with $19.46. 

If the individual requires any medical treatment or prescription medication, the $19.46 won't even cover those expenses.  And, if the individual has any debts or expenses such as clothing/shoes/etc. each month, it will leave them with less than nothing.  The minimum wage is not a living wage and certainly could not support an individual with a growing child.  And, this is the condition under which the majority of Americans currently live and work.

The odds that anyone would be able to avoid using credit or getting caught in a cycle of debt from which there appears no escape is inevitable under the current system.  Regardless of who is most responsible, government officials or private business, is irrelevant.  A problem exists that must be addressed.  And, turning the Federal Reserve into a public utility as is the recommendation of Ellen Brown, based on the Republican plan of Abraham Lincoln, makes the most sense to stop debt slavery of the majority in the United States.[1]  It is clear that this is the issue and that you cannot blame individuals who work full time for their poverty when the system is clearly not working for us and either stupidly apathetic (myopic in understanding, unable to see the big picture or likely result of the continued injustice due to failure to learn from history) or blatantly evil (disregarding the suffering of others and/or actually enjoying the power wielded to destroy and make miserable the majority of earth's inhabitants while simultaneously playing "Risk" and "Monopoly"). 

There is no moral or ethical authority in a world that prioritizes profits over people.  And, might does not make right.  So, this is just one more voice of opposition to modern tyranny.  We are the people we've been waiting for and we need to act like it and organize effectively.  Do not be distracted by morons and make sure moles are shown the door.  That's my best tip for anyone who actually wants to make a difference.  A moron can be well-meaning and cry a lot over issues you care about, but, they won't help and will likely distract or mislead you in a manner that makes real change nearly impossible.  So, while no one wants to be mean to anyone who is well-meaning, sometimes you need to be firm so your own compassion doesn't become a barrier to making effective change that will benefit the majority.  Everyone benefits by a safer and less violent world when everyone exhibits ethical and moral standards of consideration for everyone else.  And, when you choose not to live a moral or ethical life and assume a position of authority, you should expect a violent revolt when reasonable discourse fails to achieve needed change and effective redress of grievances.  This is particularly true when reasonable and effective solutions have been proposed for addressing these issues for millennia, literally. 


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