How Much Do You Need to Earn Just to Get By in Baltimore?

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How much money would an average person with one kid need to just eke by — you know, with enough money for food and rent and health insurance, but no frills — in Baltimore? Take a wild guess:   $25,000? $35,000?
It’s actually more like $47,000, according to the number crunchers over at MIT. They’ve come up with a Living Wage Calculator, which shows that a Baltimorean living alone would need to make $23,373 in a year just to get by; that averages out to $11.24/hour for full-time work. But add a child into the mix and costs start skyrocketing:  an adult with one child to care for would need $47,595 (or $22.88/hour) to get by; with three children, those numbers jump to $72,047, or $34.64/hour. (If that sounds bad, consider D.C., where one adult with three kids would have to earn more than $42 an hour.)

The glaring problem, of course, is that it’s hard to find a full-time job with those kinds of wages. Because they’re smarties, MIT also has a list of average hourly wages in the Baltimore area. The takeaway? If you’ve got one kid and a job in the business, architecture, or legal fields, you’ll be okay. But if you’re employed in the social service, sales, administrative support, or construction industry, you’re out of luck. (See the full list of numbers here — they’re fascinating!)

The federal minimum wage was a progressive idea when it was introduced in the 1930s, a time when Americans were plagued by a national depression and a terrifyingly high unemployment rate. These days, though, the idea of the minimum wage is archaic, opponents argue. It hasn’t kept up with inflation (if it had, it would be more than $10 now, rather than the current measly $7.25) or the rising cost of goods. That’s where the idea of the living wage comes in. According to MIT, the living wage (also called the subsistence wage) “is the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time.” The MIT Living Wage Calculator takes into account the cost of groceries, rent, and transportation in a city (among other factors) to figure out how much a person would need in order to earn enough to get by.

This summer, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined several members of the Baltimore City Council to support raising the federal minimum wage by 85 cents a year over the next three years. That would bring it to just under $10 in 2014. That’s still less than a living wage, but it’s something.



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