Welfare Doesn’t Pay Much, But it’s More Than Minimum Wage in 35 States

Another Labor Day is in our rear view mirrors, but the struggle for workers’ rights continue unabated. With summer recess for both Congress and local state legislatures drawing to a close, we can expect more anti-worker attacks in a number of states seeking to dismantle unions or fight against growing pressure to raise the minimum wage.

The Cato Institute, a right wing think tank and public policy group, is jumping to the front of the line with a new study that reveals there are 35 states in which “welfare benefits” are higher than the state’s minimum wage. An article published by Forbes takes the study and runs with it with very little critical analysis, ignoring a number of details such as one very important one: many of the “benefits” the authors tout as welfare are housing, medical and food subsidies that are often used by families who work at minimum wage but still need state or federal support because their pay is so low.

The recent fast food workers strikes, which are now spreading across the country, are putting a much needed spotlight on the real struggles of minimum wage employment. That scrutiny reveals that Cato is right about one thing: far too many states have a minimum wage that is just too low.

The answer, of course, isn’t that welfare and other social safety net programs need to be cut (or even worse, as the columnist suggests, taxed, as if those on public subsidies have any cash lying around to pay for such a thing), but that we need a real, livable wage that actually comes somewhere near the “$15 an hour” the fiscal conservatives claim welfare benefits equal.

The largest issue standing in the way of a true living wage effort is one of public perception. Predominately, when the general public envisions minimum wage workers, they see teens working after school jobs or college students taking a break during the summer. Yet that doesn’t describe the vast majority of those employed in low wage industries. As a graphic based on data provided by the Economic Policy Institute succinctly notes, 88 percent of minimum wage earners are 20 years old or older, and average around 35 years old; 56 percent of them are women; the workers earn half of their family’s income; and 22 percent of them have children at home which they are trying to raise with these hourly wages.

If the right really wants less government dependency, they need to stop fighting the passage of laws that will allow workers to support themselves and their families without needing multiple full time jobs just to keep afloat. Until politicians stop getting major donations from industry giants, however, that may be as much of a pipe dream as all hourly employees receiving a living wage.

No wonder the strikes continue to grow.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

so, do any "regular" people (meaning other than investment bankers or vulture capitalist) still believe that money is a measure of one's worth to society?!

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman4 years ago

Some people have posted comments that seem to imply that if a woman stays home to raise her children, then she is not "working". I wonder how many of them have raised children. Every parent works hard.

Also some people have posted that people who need assistance should not have so many children. The fact is that families on assistance have fewer children than families not being assisted. And if the poor should have fewer children, they should be provided with free contraception and abortions.

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

Thanks for info.

Robby K.
Past Member 4 years ago

Janet T- you're right, except- democratic politicians & other upper-class do it too...

Gene Jacobson
Gene J4 years ago

(continued)working poor and the dwindling middle class with the tactics in use since the 2008 crash and watch what happens here politically. People will NOT be trod upon forever, if the 1% had half a brain, they'd realize the current distribution of wealth cannot be sustained and in every civilization that had this large a gap between the wealthiest and the poorest, the country itself collapsed from revolution within. THAT is what brought about the Arab spring and to think it won't happen here is just one more example of myopic right wing "thinking". Occupy America was just the beginning of what will become an outright class war. The republicans like to yell that every time anyone questions their obscene salaries and perks but they have no idea what it will be like when that phrase is turned around and directed at THEM. Will that bring them to their senses? Bring about a level playing field and a real redistribution of wealth which is all that can save our "culture"? I don't know, but I am sure we're going to find out.

Gene Jacobson
Gene J4 years ago

"The recent fast food workers strikes, which are now spreading across the country, are putting a much needed spotlight on the real struggles of minimum wage employment. That scrutiny reveals that Cato is right about one thing: far too many states have a minimum wage that is just too low."

This is the real crux of the issue. It isn't only fast food workers either, studies also show that many Walmart employee's, far from being a tax paying asset to a community, are a drain because their wages are so low and their benefits so few that they qualify for, and NEED, subsidies through various welfare programs to live. It is certainly true that many Americans (at least in the right wing) think of kids in their first job when they think of fast food workers but as the article points out that is outmoded thinking. The economy has NOT recovered from the 2008 crash, the jobs lost then were high paying with benefits, what jobs that have been created since are mostly low wage, part time (so no benefits) or temporary - because that is how the 1% maximizes profits. And they are about one thing only and this is profit, their moral philosophy is bankrupt, dollars before people is an immoral business construct yet it is THE path our "job creators" choose most of the time. The only real exemption to that is when the job is one held by someone in the 1%, in that case outlandish wages and insane perks are the norm. Think the Arab Spring can't happen here? Continue punishing our young, the

Robert H.
Robert Hamm4 years ago

Bullshit Deborah W. The right would still be calling for cuts.

janet t.
janet t4 years ago

Some republican politicians act as if accepting welfare is hitting the lotto jackpot. They think so many people like living on government handouts. Is that because they take so many handouts and enjoy it so much?? Most of the politicians like handouts when they come their way but want to cut welfare, medicare, social security and school programs. Most of which we pay into in order to collect when and if we need it. Look at your pay stubs people, you will see there are deductions for most of those programs and that makes it insurance that you pay into, and OWN. Politicians want you to forget that.

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

CUTS WOULD NOT BE NECESSARY IF there was just a review of the program and credentials necessary to weed out the freeloaders and scam artists from those truly in need ... who presently have to share available aid with those within their own ranks who are NOT in need.

Why doesn't anyone want to touch that part of the problem?