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Minimum Wage and Life Quality

Introduction

Poverty poses a severe threat to sustainable national and world development. It implies the inability to provide the most necessary human needs for comfortable living conditions. At the same time, the established minimum wage levels also cannot provide the required income for a high standard of living. This work is designed to analyze the author’s monthly expenses, compare them with a minimum wage, and evaluate the opportunities of assistance for people with low income.

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Month Expenses

  • Living expenses:
    • Application fee: $250;
    • Deposit: $500;
    • Mortgage: $1225;
  • Utilities:
    • Electricity: $95.63;
    • Water: $61.46;
    • Gas: N/A;
    • Trash: $25;
    • Phone: $108;
    • Cable: N/A;
    • Internet: $60.25;
  • Transportation:
    • Car payment $331.83;
    • Gas ($28 x 4 per month) = $112 A month;
    • Insurance: $202.81;
    • Maintenance: $25.00;
    • Bus Pass: N/A;
    • Gas Money for Transportation: N/A;
    • Uber: N/A;
    • Unexpected Costs: $200 a year;
  • Food:
    • Groceries ($70 x 2 per month) = $150.00 a month;
    • Dining out $100 a month;
    • Fast Food $50;
  • Clothing:
    • Laundry Supplies: $10;
    • Laundry costs ($ 5 per load x 4 loads per month) = $20 a month;
    • Dry cleaning: N/A;
    • Purchasing New clothes/items: $5;
  • School:
    • Tuition costs ($ 630.00 x 1 per month if paying monthly);
    • School fees: N/A;
    • Books: $60;
    • Parking permit: N/A;
    • Supplies: $20;
    • Miscellaneous Costs: N/A;
  • Health:
    • Medical insurance: $15.68;
    • Dental Insurance: N/A;
    • Prescription costs: N/A;
    • Vitamins/supplements: N/A;
    • Gym memberships: N/A;
  • Personal hygiene expenses:
    • Hair: $29;
    • Nails: N/A;
    • Make-up: N/A;
    • Grooming: N/A;
  • Entertainment:
    • Monthly Subscriptions/Passes: $45;
    • App Purchases: $1;
    • Significant other: N/A;
    • Hobbies: $30;
    • Gifts: N/A;
  • Financial:
    • Savings: $3500;
    • Bank fees: $5;
    • Credit card Payments: $176.36;
    • Charitable/religious donations: $25;
  • Miscellaneous expenses:
    • Dog Food: $20;
  • Grand total a month that is due: $3,613.02.

Expenses and Minimum Wage Comparison

Minimal requirements for payments may vary in different states but should not be lower than the federal standards. In the State of Virginia, from May 1, 2021, the minimum wage should be $9.50 per hour (DeVore & Zhang, 2021). With a 40-hour working week, which implies 8 hours of work 5 days a week, and considering that the average number of weekdays per month is 22, $1,672 should be a minimum monthly income. The calculation is as follows:

  • 22 days × 8 hours = 176 working hours;
  • 176 hours × $9.50 per hour = $1,672 monthly

The same scheme with changed payment per hour is also used in the following calculations of the lowest and highest minimal income in the United States. According to the Statista Research Department (2021), until May 1, 2021, the minimum wage corresponds to the set federal minimum of $7.25 per hour in Virginia. In this case, the minimum monthly income is much lower – $1,276. At the same time, according to the same source, the highest minimum wage of $15 per hour is in the District of Columbia (Statista Research Department, 2021). With such a payment level, the monthly income is $2,640.

The author’s total expenses are $3,613, which is higher by $1,941 than the expected minimum income of $1,672 in Virginia. At the same time, payments are higher than the federal minimum of $1,276 by $2,337. Moreover, even in the district with the highest minimum wage, a monthly income of $2,640 is less than the author’s expenses by $973. Thus, considering the relatively moderate payments and purchase of only the most necessary things for a comfortable standard of living, a minimum is not enough. Moreover, the costs of health care and hobbies are pretty reduced, and a potential trip during a vacation or gifts during the festive season are omitted. Comfortable expenses are more than twice higher than the minimum wage in the majority of states.

Assistance Programs for Low-Income People

Several support tools help people with disabilities, seniors, children, and low-income people get the necessary minimum for life in the U.S. Such programs are designed to supplement earnings, provide benefits for food, health insurance, thereby helping people get out of poverty. Welfare programs are government-funded but state-managed, and a share of the funding can also be provided by the state government (Amadeo, 2021). As a result, the requirements (such as a certain level of income) for receiving assistance may differ in various states.

The main areas of assistance programs are health insurance, assistance in paying and finding housing, obtaining necessary food, caring for children, and tax reduction. Amadeo (2021) identifies six major federal programs: “Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF), Medicaid, Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP or “food stamps”), Supplementary Security Income (SSI), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and housing assistance” (para. 2).

At the same time, according to the official government website created to search for the necessary programs, many people eligible to receive aid do not benefit from it because of ignorance (“Assistance for low-income,” 2019). It is also crucial to mention that this site, Benefit.gov, is one of the E-Government initiatives and provides a lot of information about assistance programs (“About us,” n.d.). In particular, the site has a tool that personalizes the search for assistance that a person can claim – Benefit Finder.

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Receiving assistance under various programs depends on the level of income, the number of people in the family, the age, the capabilities of the person, and other indicators. After the author introduced data taking into account the calculated minimum income in Virginia – $1,672 and one person in a household, Benefit Finder offered several programs. Some of the most beneficial are Virginia Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – related to housing, Free File – financial assistance, and Adults and Dislocated Workers Program – help in finding work. Notably, the search results do not include major federal programs mentioned earlier – for example, SNAP or EITC. The reason is that these programs have a broader list of requirements, and, therefore, further discussion is devoted to programs proposed by Benefit Finder.

Virginia Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

Virginia LIHEAP was created to help low-income families pay for the supply of electricity, heating, cooling, and weatherization of houses. As a result, low-income families reduce the burden of paying for the home and improve the housing conditions themselves. Favorable living conditions, in turn, contribute to people’s good health. Moreover, equipped houses prevent dangerous attempts to regulate the temperature and benefit the safety of the population.

Like any program, LIHEAP has requirements for those who want to get aid. According to Benefits.gov, annual income per person should not exceed $16,744 before taxes (“Virginia Low Income,” n.d.). For each family member, the maximum income increases by $5,902. Given that the specified monthly income of $1,672 per year will exceed the indicated sum of money, there is an apparent contradiction in the Benefit Finder’s recommendation.

The potential cause of such a mismatch in the Covid 19 pandemic, which is a crisis and could affect the establishment of requirements. Data on the Virginia Department of Social Services website showed that although applications for assistance due to the pandemic are closed, its maximum per person is $2,720, which corresponds to the previously indicated minimum (“Energy Assistance,” n.d.). Thus, it can be assumed that it is worth consulting with specialists and asking social services for help in some cases. In particular, telephone numbers of various services are often indicated on sites.

Free File

Free File is a convenient online service that provides support with taxes. It helps to fill out necessary documents, and incomprehensible aspects are clarified. The filing of a tax return thanks to the service is free (“What is Free File?” n.d.). It available on Internal Revenue Service (IRS), where one can get all the necessary information, hints and after sending a declaration, receives a receipt. According to Benefits.gov, to obtain software, a person’s maximum income can be $66,000 (“What is Free File?” n.d.). This limit is relatively high, and for this reason, it is difficult to call the program assistance to low-income families. However, the tool can be very convenient and practical to use.

Adults and Dislocated Workers Program

This program is designed to provide citizens with work, help build their careers, and support employers in finding employees for business development. Those who want to participate in this program must be over 18 years old or (and) be dislocated employees (“Workforce innovation and opportunity,” n.d.). In order to use the program, one needs to contact the nearest job center. Helping to find a job can be valuable, but there is no guarantee that a new job found in this way will help raise live quality.

Sociological Concepts Analysis

People’s behavior, lives, interactions with other people, and the position can be considered from a sociological perspective. Sociology has a wide range of issues under study and offers many ideas and concepts to explain various aspects of social life, including economic inequality. For example, people’s quality of life is significantly determined by society’s structure and economic system. At the moment, capitalism dominates in most countries of the world. To better understand the opportunities and situation of people with a minimum wage, it will also be relevant to consider concepts such as class, social mobility, and poverty.

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After the fall of the major communist systems, capitalism became the dominant economic system in the world. It is based on market exchange and profit-oriented production for its subsequent investment in the business expansion (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Marx and Weber formulated two main points of view on capitalism. However, the Marx’s perspective is more influential and considers capitalism as a particular stage in the development of society, in which capital and wage-labor are the main elements (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). The capitalist class is owners of the capital, which is assets – money, property, and other means that can be invested.

The class of workers is those who do not have capital and, for this reason, are forced to work for capitalists to receive payment. Although the revolutions predicted by Marx aimed at overthrowing capitalism and establishing communism did not occur, class division can be applied to society.

Marxists see capitalism as a system of exploitation of the working class, which is strengthened by inequality. While classes are interdependent, competition in the market becomes an obstacle to cooperation in society. To get ahead of competitors, capitalists can use any method to increase capital, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. In this case, from a Marxist point of view on capitalism, people with a minimum wage and their difficulties in improving the quality of life are a side effect of the economic system. At the same time, Weberians acknowledge that the system can be exploitative but believe that potential alternatives can be freedom-limiting, leaving no place for democracy (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Following Weber’s perspective, the gradual development and rationalization of capitalism, rather than its end through revolution, should be the future for the working class.

As noted earlier, the class plays an essential role in determining human opportunities. This concept implies the economic situation of a group of people, determined by their occupation, the presence of property, and the way of life (Giddens & Sutton, 2017).

The following classes are distinguished: upper, upper-middle, middle, working, and low (“The class structure in the U.S.,” n.d.). This stratification is relative since there are no clearly defined boundaries where one class ends and another begins. Moreover, there is the concept of a subjective social class related to class people define for themselves, and most Americans – about 40%, believe they belong to the middle class (Bird & Newport, 2017). The class in which a person is born often restricts movement between social classes. Such movement is related to the concept of social mobility (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Thus, children growing up in low- or working-class families are more limited in opportunities than other classes, which reinforces inequality.

People with minimal income may be close to the poverty. This concept implies the impossibility of receiving something that is considered necessary for life in society (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Sociologists distinguish absolute and relative poverty: the first refers to a state when it is impossible to provide necessary conditions for a healthy life, like food or shelter, and the second relates to the society’s standard of living.

The concept of relative poverty is important for assessing the national level of poverty since items that can be considered ordinary in one country can be luxurious in another. In states, except for Alaska and Hawaii, the poverty threshold for one person is $12,880 income per year, and $4,540 is added for each person in the household (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), 2021). Based on previous calculations, a person with a federal minimum wage is not considered poor since the annual income will be a little more than $15,000.

There are also two opposing sociological approaches to the causes of poverty. On the one hand, “blame the victim” claims that there are many opportunities for earning money, but people do not use them (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). On the other hand, following the “blame the system,” the country’s socio-economic conditions give rise to people with low incomes (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Each family is unique and different factors can influence the level of income. However, following the previously mentioned concepts, the economic system reinforces inequality, and the class determines opportunities limiting social mobility. Thus, it can be assumed that improving the quality of life is possible but incredibly difficult to achieve.

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Personal Reflection

This research was quite exciting and, at the same time, surprising to me. I viewed my expenses as relatively small, but their comparison with the minimum wage in the state and the federal minimum showed that I could not live on such income. To live so that expenses do not exceed income, I would have to reduce my monthly costs significantly. However, under conditions of the constant economy, it is not easy to provide a comfortable life and feel financial security.

The difference in the established minimum income and my expenses hit me unpleasantly. I imagined what needs should be abandoned to make the costs minimal – suitable housing, quality food, medicine, a car, and other aspects of life. I believe that the rejection of this minimum comfortable level is harmful, as health may deteriorate, which will lead to new expenses worsening the situation. The deterioration of health is only one of the potential problems because income also affects the education opportunities, changing jobs to the better ones, and other human activities.

Another reason for the surprise was the search for assistance programs – available for one person with a minimum income give little help. At the same time, the list of requirements for other programs is quite long, and they differ in the number of people, the presence of children in the family. Moreover, self-study of programs takes a long time, and there is no guarantee that the information found is accurate. Low-income families usually lack time to study laws and need help figuring out their rights and opportunities. This fact makes one think about the importance of the work of social services and how they help.

The examination of sociological concepts, in turn, was exciting since it opened up various perspectives on the problem of low income and its consequences. Even a shallow study of them demonstrates that processes occurring in society are complex. The main thing that I learned from the consideration of concepts is that low income deprives people of many opportunities and becomes the cause of the increase of inequality. Improving the quality of life is a rather laborious process, and it is pretty challenging for people who grew up in a community with a certain level to increase their incomes and improve their lives.

Conclusion

This study examines the problem of low income and the possibility of establishing a comfortable lifestyle. The author reviewed own monthly expenses and compared them with the minimum wage in Virginia, the federal minimum, and the highest accepted minimum in the States. It was found that under any of the standards, the author’s expenses, implied to provide minimal comfort, significantly exceed the estimated income.

Government assistance programs for low-income families were also considered in the paper. With the consideration of one person and a minimum wage, few programs were found. At the same time, such well-known projects as EITC or Medicaid have stricter requirements for participation. The author also discussed such sociological concepts as capitalism, class, social mobility, and poverty for application to the researched problem. Based on their study, it can be assumed that raising the standard of living for low-income families is a rather challenging task.

References

About us. (n.d.). Benefits. Web.

Amadeo, K. (2021). U.S. welfare programs, the myths vs. the facts. The Balance. Web.

Assistance for low-income families. (2019). Benefits. Web.

Bird, R., & Newport, F. (2017). What determines how Americans perceive their social class? Gallup. Web.

DeVore, D., & Zhang, B. (2021). Employment law alert – Virginia’s new minimum wage. JD Supra. Web.

Energy assistance (EA). (n.d.). Virginia Department of Social Services. Web.

Giddens, A., & Sutton, P. W. (2017). Essential concepts in sociology (2nd ed.). Polity Press.

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). (2021). Poverty guidelines. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web.

Statista Research Department (2021). State minimum wage rates in the United States as of January 1, 2021, by state. Statista. Web.

The class structure in the U.S. (n.d.). Lumen. Web.

Virginia Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. (n.d.). Benefits. Web.

What is Free File? (n.d.). Benefits. Web.

Workforce innovation and opportunity – Adults and Dislocated Workers Program (n.d.). Benefits. Web.

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