Will a minimum wage of $15 an hour lift a full-time worker of a family of four out of poverty? Yes and no.
Yes, it will. $15 an hour equals $25,923 yearly income. The poverty threshold for 2017 was $24,257.
No, it won’t because the threshold will increase over time, as it historically has, but the hourly wage income will remain the same. Crossing that imaginary line is easy. One visit to the hospital or one major problem with the car will return the whole family to poverty.
We should want all families to feel secure with a livable income, not one that teeters on the threshold. We should want a better country than one where one child in five lives in poverty.
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was “convinced that the simplest approach [to ending poverty] will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely-discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” King provided his basic plan to establish a guaranteed income.
“First, it must be pegged to the median income of society, not at the lowest level of income.” The poverty threshold is set at the highest end of low income. King saw the median income as necessary in order to abolish poverty. That median household income in 1968 was $7,700. Today, it is $59,039.
Second, the guaranteed income “must automatically increase as the total social income grows.” Without indexing income to median income growth, over time the guaranteed income would remain flat while the national median income would rise. Not indexing would push a family back in poverty.
Pegging a guaranteed income to the median income and indexing increases to growth will safeguard the security and stability of moving the poor out of poverty.
Unfortunately, King died before he could pursue work with Congress for a guaranteed income. We, though, can pressure Congress to realize King’s dream and end poverty.
We have evidence that a guaranteed income works. In the 1970s, the Canadian province of Manitoba proved that, indeed, it lifted people out of poverty. In 2017, Finland, the Canadian province of Ontario, and the city of Oakland, Calif. started a guaranteed income program. In other words, it is an idea whose time has arrived, again.
In 1968 the estimated cost for this proposal was $20 billion — not much. Based on increases in median household income and the poverty rate since 1968, today’s cost would be around $270 billion, still not much. Given the tax savings of 1 trillion 160 billion dollars that Congress gave the wealthiest individuals, corporations, and foreign investors in the recent tax bill, certainly Congress could have appropriated $270 billion to end poverty.
Let’s see to it that in 2018 Congress has the courage to implement King’s dream of a guaranteed income for all the poor in the USA.
Duane Pitts is a retired English teacher now living in Moses Lake. He taught English for 42 years - eight years in Valdosta, Ga; two years in Colfax; and 32 years in Odessa.