The Poverty Machine, Part 1

The+government_7972d5_5120758As I mentioned in a thread on Facebook, I apparently suck at not working.  While my full intention is to sell things on Etsy and do art and write and such, I find myself trying to bolster my funds a little bit here and there as I scan through work-at-home jobs and such, and I even applied for a few.

Knowing what kind of job to apply for and how much I want to make is a huge difference for me from the way I’ve job-hunted before.  I’ve lived for years not understanding the value of my talents, but since that’s changed and I’ve validated my skills, I have a different perspective on a lot of wage-related issues.  I got an email back on a job that looked pretty interesting, but the offered wage was $8 to $9 per hour.  I wrote back and politely declined, stating clearly that I didn’t even consider a job for less than $15 an hour, and that it would have to be pretty amazing at that.

“But, wait, if you need money, shouldn’t you just take what you can get?”

No.  No, you should not.

Let’s do some math.  Let’s that for this 20-hour-per-week job, I split the time between the $8/hr jobs and the $9/hr jobs.  That’s $170 before taxes, which usually come in around 18% or so, which means that my take-home is $139.40 per week.  Multiply that times four, and my monthly take-home is $557.60.  And that is also 80 hours per month that I am not doing any other productive things, so I lose time on stuff like making things for Etsy or writing.

Before we go any further, just know that that $557.60 is less than my child support payment.  Right off the bat, I cannot afford to take that job.

“Couldn’t you just do it full time?  That would be over a thousand dollars a month, right?”

Sure, but that defeats the whole “follow your dreams” purpose of this real exercise, and might almost double the time (if I actually got scheduled a full 40 hours per week, which is actually pretty rare for jobs like that) that I lose doing other more creative and productive things.

“That’s selfish.  You should earn money first and follow your dreams second.”

Fuck you.

Jobs like this that appear to be “better than minimum wage” are the linchpins of the poverty machine.  They create the illusion that as long as you make above minimum wage, you’ll be fine.  HA.

Here’s another math for you:  Minimum wage is currently $7.25.  If someone works a full time job, their pre-tax income is $1160. Take out taxes at 18% (assume no exemptions so that you can get a larger return at the end of the year) and the take-home is $951.20.  You didn’t want insurance with that, did you?  Because for just you, the average medical insurance deduction takes your available cash down to $650 or so.  Did you want to live in an apartment?  A shitty little studio rat hole will cost you around $500 a month (if you really, REALLY don’t care where you live and how many blow jobs happen right outside your door, literally, leaned against the door jamb), which leaves you with $150 to split between utilities (You like having light?  You want to cook?!?  How bourgeois!) and food (eating is for the weak) and other things like bus fare, because that this point, if you have a car, you should probably be living in it.

And, oh god, what about the children!  If you have some (and the vast majority of Americans who earn minimum wage DO), you’ll have to work at least two full time jobs to stand a snowball’s chance at having enough money for rent and food, except that that’s actually more hours in a day than you can physically afford to work.

So, $9 an hour should be good, right?  $1440 total if you actually get to work your full 40 hours per week is $1180.80 after taxes, and $830.80 after insurance (again, just for you is going to cost around $350 most of the time).  Rat-hole studio apartment for $500, and you have $330.80 with which to pay for utilities (electric and water cost on average about $150 per month if you don’t want to die of heat exhaustion) and food.

But remember – the food you can buy for $150 a month is going to be crap.  Ramen noodles, canned soup, mac-and-cheese, and maybe sometimes you can pick up some almost-expired meat for a little protein… which means that it’s a damn good thing you have that insurance because you’re going to get sick a lot–

Oh, wait, but that means that you won’t be able to go to work, so you’ll be bringing home less, which means that you will actually have less money to work with…

Okay, so you could roommate with someone, or you and your significant other will split the costs, but with both of you making poverty wages, you’re really only slowing down the rate of starvation.  If something serious happens like you really do get sick, or you have to pay off a loitering ticket or you actually have the audacity to want to go to the movies or buy a fast food burger or something, you’re cutting into the essentials.  And if you do have a car that you’re not living in, you’ll be bringing home even less because you’ll have to take into account car insurance.  Awesome.

Let’s throw some different numbers out there:  What do you have to make per hour in order to live well?

We’ll work the whole process backwards.  Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in an area that doesn’t count bullets-per-hour as a valid metric will be about $700, let’s say.  Utilities for that will run about $250 if you remember to turn the lights off all the time (counting electricity and water, and maybe natural gas).  Throw in some medical insurance – $350 – and some car insurance – $75 – and some internet – $100 or so.  I’m guessing you’d also like to eat periodically, so give yourself $500 or so for groceries (remember, this is per month), and remember that cars use gas, so add in another $120 for a tank of gas per week if you have a sensible car.  Pad your number with at least $150 so that you can handle the unexpected or go out to eat every once in a while.

You’ll need to bring home $2245.  That means that before taxes, your monthly income should be about $2650.  Your hourly wage (assuming that you get to work all 40 hours every week) is $16.50.

That is how much it takes to support yourself as an individual in today’s society.  That’s more than twice the current minimum wage.

Now, does that seem right to you?

(More on this later…)

Dawn Written by:


  1. See, and I keep trying to explain this to people who think I should totally be fine with my $15 an hour. Except around here the rent is significantly higher, and my insurance is astronomical right now, so….yep. Jeebus. This post depresses me.

  2. […] question, but I suggested that I do not agree completely.  We’ve already established that the minimum wage is woefully pathetic compared to what people need to live, and we also established that it would take FOUR full-time […]

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