Basic needs and the minimum wage

Basic RGBWorking full time is no guarantee that your family will be able to get by.

In fact, 1 in 6 Iowa households with a worker earned less than is needed to support a family at a very basic level. That is the finding of a report released Wednesday by the Iowa Policy Project.

The new report, part 2 of the 2014 edition of The Cost of Living in Iowa, used census data to estimate how many families earned less than is needed to pay for a no-frills basic standard of living – covering rent, food, transportation, child care, clothing and health care.

In all, at least 100,000 Iowa families earn less than the basic needs budget amount (reported in part 1 of the Cost of Living report). For those families, the average shortfall – the break-even income amount minus what they actually earned – was over $14,000.

So how would an increase in the minimum wage help such a family? A full-time wage earner at the current minimum wage of $7.25 would see an increase of almost $6,000 in annual income if the wage were raised to $10.10, as Senator Harkin and others have proposed. That’s a pretty good chunk of the average $14,000 shortfall facing these families.

The situation facing Iowa’s single-parent families is much bleaker. Almost 3 in 5 – over 27,000 families – fall short of the basic needs level of income despite working at least half time, and 29 percent earn less than half the break-even level. The average working single parent’s earnings fall over $21,000 short of what is needed. High child care costs are responsible for much of that shortfall.

How do such families get by? Some move in with relatives or find short-term strategies to survive, but many rely on work supports such as food assistance, hawk-i or Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act subsidies for health care, and the state’s Child Care Assistance program.

Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if Iowa’s low-wage employers followed the lead of Costco and others and quit using these public supports to subsidize their low wages?

An increase in the minimum wage makes all employers responsible for providing something closer to what is needed for a worker to get by in today’s world. Even a single person living alone needs in excess of $13 an hour to pay the bills.

We need to strengthen our work supports in Iowa as well. Child Care Assistance in particular needs to be reformed. We have one of the lowest eligibility ceilings in the country: At an income well below what any family needs to get by, assistance is eliminated.

And we make it difficult for the thousands of students who are parents to work part time while going to school part time to qualify for child care assistance at all. Still, employers need to do their part to make work pay.

Working full time shouldn’t leave a family in poverty.

Peter Fisher

Posted by Peter Fisher, Research Director

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2 Comments on “Basic needs and the minimum wage”


  1. […] The Des Moines Register recently ran an excerpt from that same blog post, which can be found here: http://iowapolicypoints.org/2014/04/10/basic-needs-and-the-minimum-wage/. Budget Folks in Iowa City are voicing concerns about school budget cuts. IPP’s Mike Owen noted […]


  2. […] ‘How much?’ is the question Raise in Iowa’s minimum wage is long overdue Stability can be overrated. The state’s minimum wage has not been raised since January 1, 2008. That means six years of increases in costs of food, health care, child care, clothes, utility bills, transportation costs from fuel to vehicles to insurance. You name it and if it’s part of a regular household budget, the costs have gone up, whether you’re making six figures or the minimum wage. But the minimum wage has held at $7.25 an hour, well below the cost of living in our state. Read more about this on Iowa Policy Points, with these posts: http://iowapolicypoints.org/2014/04/25/raising-debate-about-a-raise/ http://iowapolicypoints.org/2014/04/10/basic-needs-and-the-minimum-wage/ […]


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