Even With New Year Increases, The Minimum Wage Is Nearly Impossible to Live On

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NEW YORK CITY - APRIL 15 2015: High school students, union activists & fast food workers marched in Manhattan's Upper West Side to demand a $15 per hour federal minimum wage.
From and

Click on the audio player above to hear this segment.

California and Massachusetts are raising their minimum wages to $10 an hour in 2016, the highest state-wide minimum wage in the country. They are among 14 states increasing hourly pay in January 2016.

Some of those raises were voted on last year, and others are mandated increases indexed to the cost of living. In Alaska, the minimum hourly wage will increase by a whole dollar—from $8.75 to $9.75. That change is the second major increase in two years and will impact thousands of workers, mostly in the seafood processing industry. 

But in some states, like Arkansas, workers who get tips are exempted from these pay hikes. And other states, like New Hampshire, still do not have a state mandated minimum wage, so workers are left with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. 

These changes mean different things in different places, says Amy Glasmeier, professor of economic geography and regional planning at MIT, and founder of The Living Wage Calculator.

However, she says actually getting by on the minimum wage, even after these increases, is nearly impossible. Shahera Zallum, a 19-year-old McDonald’s employee in Boston, works for minimum wage and will benefit from the increase state-wide in Massachusetts. 

What you'll learn from this segment:

  • How our understanding of the minimum wage has changed in recent years.
  • How much the minimum wage would need to increase to keep up with inflation over the last decade.
  • What it's really like to be a minimum wage worker in America today.


Correction: The audio portion of this interview incorrectly states that South Dakota is experiencing an oil boom. North Dakota's oil industry has been booming.