The Fight For 15 made history when lawmakers in 2 of America’s largest states–California and New York–announced plans to implement a $15 minimum wage. To date, 17 million workers have won raises due to the Fight For 15 and 10 million are on track to see their wages increase to $15 an hour. Polls show 75% of the public support raising the minimum wage–63% support raising it to $15–and new documents reveal 80% of business executives support wage increases too.
Inevitably, many critics and even allies will point to the fact that California, New York, and the many other jurisdictions who have passed or are considering a $15 minimum wage are areas with high costs-of-living. They argue that such large increases aren’t possible or even necessary in places like Alabama. It’s true that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., but that just means a $15 minimum wage isn’t enough to be considered a living wage in places like New York, DC, or Seattle. But it’s a much better fit for Alabama.
According to the Economic Policy Institute’s calculations of what is needed for families of various compositions to achieve a “modest yet adequate standard of living,” a family of four in rural Alabama needs to earn $58,577 annually. That same family living in any of Alabama’s major metropolitan areas–Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, or Huntsville–needs to earn between $60,000 and $63,000 annually. Considering the yearly income of a full-time worker earning is $15/hour is around $31,000 before taxes, it’s hardly a stretch to say Alabamians need at least $15 to survive.
Other measurements tell a similar story. The National Low Income Housing Coalition calculated the wage workers needed to afford the fair market rent of an apartment without exceeding 30% of their income–the standard for measuring housing affordability. Their research shows the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom in Alabama is $710 per month. The average wage needed to afford that apartment is $13.66 although it goes up to $14.87 for Birmingham and $15.15 in Montgomery. Workers need to earn over $15 an hour to afford anything larger than a 2-bedroom in every jurisdiction.
Nowhere can a full-time worker afford even a 1-bedroom apartment at the current minimum wage. In Alabama, it takes 61 hours of work each week to afford the fair market rent at the current rate of $7.25. And minimum wage workers face many other barriers. Roughly 64% of minimum wage workers are part-time making it even more difficult to afford life’s necessities. Two-thirds of Alabama’s minimum wage workers are women, many of whom also struggle to pay for child care. This doesn’t even address the gender wage gap or racial discrimination that contributes to lower wages.
With a median household income of less than $43,000–well below the national average–and a poverty rate over 19%, Alabamians could use a raise. Forty-seven percent of Alabama workers make less than $15, so imagine if half the population suddenly had more money to spend. With a decent wage and a relatively low cost-of-living we could finally attract the new economic development Republicans have been promising for years. A $15 minimum wage would revitalize Alabama’s lagging economy and make us a leader in the South.